Having just named my puppy Flora, I’m more inclined than usual to celebrate Floralia, the Roman holiday that’s most likely the origin of May Day, the flowery holiday that initiates the summer season.
The festival honored Flora, the Sabine goddess who represented the reproductive abundance of nature, the sexual aspects of plants, and the attractiveness of flowers. The celebrations, which began on April 28 and went on for six days and nights, included games, pantomimes, plays, and stripteases. According to Suetonius in CE 68, the entertainment included a tightrope-walking elephant.
Everyone wore their most colorful clothes and decked themselves and their animals in flowers. Goats and hares were let loose—they represented fertility and sexuality. Persius, a Roman poet and satirist, wrote that crowds were showered with beans, vetches, and lupines, also symbols of fertility.
These same themes show up in the seasonal celebrations of Walpurgisnacht and May Day, when people wear floral wreaths, decorate their homes with green branches, crown a May Queen, and erect and dance around a Maypole. No tightrope-walking elephants, though.
I like to slip out of the house around midnight on May Eve and collect some fragrant flowers from the alleys around my apartment and hang them in paper cones on the doorknobs of my neighbors. This year, I’ll take along Flora.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”