Flora is the roman godess of flowers and spring. Her festival the Floralia was held in April or early May and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. She is the wife of Favonius.
Floralia, The Goddess Flora April 27 - May 3
“Incipis Aprili, transis in tempora Maii:
alter te fugiens, cum venit alter habet.
cum tua sint cedantque tibi confinia mensum,
convenit in laudes ille vel ille tuas.
Circus in hunc exit clamataque palma theatris;
hoc quoque cum Circi munere carmen eat.”
"You start in April and cross to the time of May One has you as it leaves, one as it comes Since the edges of these months are yours and defer To you, either of them suits your praises. The Circus continues and the theatre's lauded palm, Let this song, too, join the Circus spectacle." Ovid, Fasti (V.185-190)
“Mater, ades, florum, ludis celebranda iocosis”
“Come, Mother of Flowers, that we may honor thee with merry games”
Ovid, Fasti (V.183)
Flora: A temple was built to honor the goddess of flowers and blossoming plants, Flora. In 263 BCE it was dedicated on April 27 (April 28th according to Ovidus) to May 2nd or 3rd to the Goddess Flora and the festival of Floralia was first declared to solicit her protection, propitiousness of crops and flowers in gardens and fields and wealth. Favonius, the God of the West Wind had authority over plants and flowers and upon taking by force, the Nymph, Flora, into marriage He gifted that dominion to the Goddess as amends. Flora was honored as a fertility Goddess by the Sabines an old Italic tribe of the Apennines before the founding of Rome. The Goddess can avert the fungal disease of plants, particularly wheat, known as rust that causes iron colored growths.
“Itaque iidem floralia iiii kal. easdem instituerunt urbis anno dxvi ex oraculis sibyllae, ut omnia bene deflorescerent. hunc diem Varro determinat sole tauri partem xiiii obtinente. ergo si in hoc quadriduum inciderit plenilunium, fruges et omnia, quae florebunt, laedi necesse erit.” “The same people also, in the year of the City 513, instituted the Floralia, a festival held upon the fourth before the calends of May, in accordance with the oracular injunctions of the Sibyl, to secure a favorable season for the blossoms and flowers. Varro fixes this day as the time at which the sun enters the fourteenth degree of Taurus. [April 28] If there should happen to be a full moon during the four days at this period, injury to the corn and all the plants that are in blossom will be the necessary result.” Pliny the Elder Natural History Plin. Nat. 18.103
Ludi Florae: Great Banquets and Games were in abundance. Romans wore colorful garments and walked around clutching bouquets of flowers and wore wreaths of flowers around their neck or in their hair. They scattered the flowers of lupines, bean and vetch about. Romans attended bawdy plays where prostitutes and female actresses performed naked at the demand of the crowds, cheered and jeered at licentious farces and mimes, attended gladiatorial games and chariot races where chickpeas were thrown to the people and hunted the symbols of fertility; deer (or goats) and hare. The festivities began in the morning with the rituals continuing as Romans danced, drank and surrounded themselves with flowers into the night.
Floralia in ancient times was the quintessential nature festival earning moral judgments from Cato the Younger, Ausonius, Lactantius, and Augustine. However Floralia is recognized as a valuable festival and noted in good regard from Varro, Pliny, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, Martial, Aulus Gellius and Valerius Maximas. At one time the Floralia was labeled superstitio and discontinued but it was revived again in 173 BCE when violent winds, hail and rain fell destroyed the blossoms and crops. The ancient Romans felt that this was Flora's wrath for neglecting Her festival (Ovid, Fasti, V). Floralia symbolizes the renewal of life.
Modern Floralia: When I was still living at my Parent’s home fresh cut large purple Lilacs filled our home with the most wonderful scent around the time of the Floralia! Flowers, from my Mother's garden and also from the florist, were given to other family members, friends and placed on the graves of my ancestors. Beginning with Juno, Matronalia, on the kalends of March and honoring the Spring Goddesses such as Venus Mater, to whom I was dedicated, and Ceres, we continued our Spring celebrations honoring Flora. Floralia was special to my mother and we would honor Flora with ritual and offerings of milk and honey every May 1st - the month of my mother's birth- and have a mini- Floralia with family and friends the Sunday afterwards. I continue this tradition today - and like my Father I also incorporated chocolate animals and eggs (which we also got on “Eastre”, sometimes getting a jump on Floralia, so we would not feel so different from others - and on May 1st we would attend a "flower dance" and a Maypole celebration if one was available. This tradition of attending public “flower dances” I have occasionally continued after moving to the south, however when I was on business in Europe there were no lack of "flower dances" and Maypole celebrations. The main feast was held on the first Sunday of Floralia and included roasted Lamb, homemade breads, fresh and roasted spring vegetables, fruits, nuts and a variety of delicious pastries – although now more often than not we go to a restaurant.
"They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days togaether, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye madd Bacchinalians.” Bradford, William (1856). History of Plymouth. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 237–238.
Not as “Bacchanalian” as I had been in my youth, I still enjoy the indulgences of Floralia doing my part to keep the festival alive! Continue I the tradition of reading selections from Ovid’s Fasti Liber V to my ancestors’ descendants and adapt an ancient closing prayer into my ritual, personalized with my name in lieu of Ovid’s:
“Mansit odor; posses scire fuisse deam. Floreat ut toto carmen Nasonis in aevo,sparge, precor, donis pectora nostra tuis.” “A fragrance lingered; you could know a goddess had been there. That Naso’s lay may bloom for aye, O strew, I pray thee, goddess, thy boons upon my breast!” Ovid Fasti (V. 376 - 378)
The Goddess-Nymph speaks to Ovidus:
“Forsitan in teneris tantum mea regna coronis esse putes. tangit numen et arva meum. si bene floruerint segetes, erit area dives: si bene floruerit vinea, Bacchus erit; si bene floruerint oleae, nitidissimus annus, pomaque proventum temporis huius habent. flore semel laeso pereunt viciaeque fabaeque, et pereunt lentes, advena Nile, tuae. vina quoque in magnis operose condita cellis florent, et nebulae dolia summa tegunt. mella meum munus: volucres ego mella daturas ad violam et cytisos et thyma cana voco.' (nos quoque idem facimus tunc, cum iuvenalibus annis luxuriant animi, corporaque ipsa vigent.)” “Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. If the crops have blossomed well, the threshing-floor will be piled high; if the vines have blossomed well, there will be wine; if the olive-trees have blossomed well, most buxom will be the year; and the fruitage will be according to the time of blossoming. If once the blossom is nipped, the vetches and beans wither, and thy lentils, O Nile that comest from afar, do likewise wither. Wines also bloom, laboriously stored in great cellars, and a scum covers their surface in the jars. Honey is my gift. ‘Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme. (‘Tis I, too, who discharge the same function when in youthful years spirits run riot and bodies are robust.)” Ovid Fasti (V. 261 – 274)
In closing, a reminder to honor the Gods from Flora herself:
“'nos quoque tangit honor: festis gaudemus et aris,
turbaque caelestes ambitiosa sumus.
saepe deos aliquis peccando fecit iniquos,
et pro delictis hostia blanda fuit;
saepe Iovem vidi, cum iam sua mittere vellet
fulmina, ture dato sustinuisse manum.
at si neglegimur, magnis iniuria poenis
solvitur, et iustum praeterit ira modum.”
“We, too, are touched by honor; we delight in festivals and altars; we heavenly beings are a greedy gang. Often by sinning has a man disposed the gods against him, and a sacrificial victim has been a sop for crimes. Often have I seen Jupiter, when he was just about to launch his thunderbolts, hold his hand on the receipt of incense. But if we are neglected, we avenge the wrong by heavenly penalties, and our wrath exceeds just bounds.” Ovid Fasti (V. 297 – 304)
 Ovid refers to deer as 1) Ovid (Ovid: Fasti) refers to deer as “capreae” while some translate this to “row deer (pl)” others translate it to “goats” as “caprae” is plural for female goats and “capreae” is the ancient name for the goat abundant Isle of Capri. Since this festival was not of wild vegetation and wild animals it might stand to reason that the animals were domesticated rabbits and goats rather than rabbits and deer as deer cannot truly be domesticated although they can, with difficulty, be penned but this is mainly a modern practice. Rabbits, while a general symbol of fertility are also specifically a symbol of female fertility and goats are a symbol of male fertility. Deer on the other hand are also a general symbol of fertility but they too are also specifically a female symbol of fertility. As symbols of fertility, the rabbit and the goat would be symbolic of a fertile union.