And while earth’s little ones are fain
And play about the Mother’s hem
I scatter every gift I gain
From sun and wind to gladden them.
– William Morris
The Floralia was the ancient Roman celebration honoring the Goddess, Flora. It was originally a moveable feast that coincided with the height of the blossoming of the plants, later becoming fixed on the 27th of April, and then, after the reformation of the Roman calendar, on the 28th. Although the ludi (games, such as horse-races or athletic contests) were not held every year, by the days of the Empire, the festival had expanded to seven days, and usually included chariot-races and theatrical performances, some of which were notoriously bawdy.
The Floralia emphasized merriment and celebrations of an amorous nature, much like the rites of Beltane that the Britons were simultaneously celebrating further north, or even the Hindu festival Holi, which, in its warmer climate, naturally occurs a little earlier.
Because one of the later Roman myths about Flora was that She was a wealthy courtesan that left all Her fortunes to Rome, prostitutes adopted the Floralia as their own holiday. Thus, it gained a reputation as being even more licentious and wild than the Saturnalia of December, whose name is, even today, synonymous with the complete abandonment of social and sexual restraints.
At the chariot-races and circus games of the Floralia, it was traditional to let goats and hares loose, and flowers were scattered everywhere, as symbols of beauty and fertility. Brightly colored clothing was a must, as were wreaths of flowers, especially roses; and the celebrations drew huge crowds.
Flora Herself was traditionally depicted by the Romans as wearing light spring clothing, holding small bouquets of flowers, and usually crowned with blossoms. Honey, made from flowers, is one of Her gifts to us. Her name is said to be one of the secret holy names of Rome. She is sometimes called the handmaiden of Ceres, the Goddess of Grain from whose name we get “cereal.” Ovid identifies Flora with the Greek flower-nymph Chloris, whose name means “yellow or pale green,” the color of Spring. The word flora is still used as a general name for the plant world, especially when referring to those of a particular region.
Although we are technically about a week or so behind schedule, why not have your own Floralia celebrations today? Take advantage of the finer things your tax dollars are paying for, like public parks and gardens – and visit one today. Bury your face in the intoxicating fragrance of roses, tulips and peonies, or whatever is blooming in your part of the world.
Treat yourself to armfuls of flowers, and bedeck your home and office. Yes, they are impermanent. Yes, it is indulgent and frivolous. That is exactly the point!
In the name of Flora, fall in love with what is enticing, beautiful, perhaps even hopelessly impractical. Get outside. Walk slowly. Breathe deeply. Let yourself be seduced by the world around you. Allow your sensuous, wild, beautiful spirit come out to play! May Flora bring you Her blessings today!