Sunday, 19 January 2014

Roman Calendar

"Spring's Innocence" by Norman Lindsay (1937)
Living in Sydney, where the seasonal calendar is the reverse of that of Rome’s (so that when it is winter in Rome it is summer in Sydney and vice versa), I have tended to not pay too much attention to the traditional polytheistic calendar of ancient Rome – for so many ancient celebrations were related to the seasonal cycles of Europe. I am also mindful of the fact that many ancient festivals celebrated the founding of temples that have long since fallen into ruin – if the temple no longer exists then celebrating its coming into being seems somewhat incongruous.  And then there is the fact that I don’t know too many Roman oriented polytheists – so with whom do I celebrate these festivals? 

Turning aside from contemporary concerns, I note that even when Rome’s empire was at her height there was no such thing as a universal Roman calendar of religious festivals, for each region of the empire established their own calendar, which did not necessarily mirror the calendar in Rome (Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion at 41-42). Furthermore, the religious calendars varied from century to century, so not only were they not uniform from region to region, they were not uniform from century to century either. 

Nonetheless, learning about the calendars is undoubtedly useful, in terms of understanding how polytheism was practiced in ancient Rome, and observing at least the most important of the festivals may provide a pleasing link between the past and present, as well with other contemporary Roman polytheists – for these reasons I celebrate Saturnalia at the very least. I also try to make some kind of observation on certain other days, especially those that are traditionally sacred to the Gods whom I most revere.

At first glance one may be surprised at just how many festivals there were  (I will not attempt to list them all, see romanrepublic.org and liceostellini.it for more complete calendars) – until one recalls that there was no such thing as a weekend in ancient Europe and the only occasions for holidays were religious festivals. In the 5th century CE Macrobius wrote:
“Numa [one of the founding fathers of Rome and the Religio Romana] divided the year into months and then divided each month into days, calling each day either ‘festival’, ‘working day’ or ‘half-festival’. The festivals are days dedicated to the Gods; on the working days people may transact private and public business; and the half-festivals are shared between Gods and humans. Thus on the festival days there are sacrifices, religious banquets, games and holidays … 
The celebration of a religious festival consists of the offerings of sacrifices to the Gods or the marking of the day by a ritual feast or the holding of games in honour of the Gods or the observance of holidays [Macrobius, cited in Beard et al at 61].”
Even in ancient times most ordinary Romans would not have partaken in every festival on the calendar. The most popular festivals in ancient Rome were the Lupercalia and the Saturnalia; other popular festivals include the Kalends of January (New Year’s day), the Matronalia, the Liberalia, the Parilia, the Vestalia, the Neptunalia and the Volcanalia. Some dates were particularly significant to certain groups of people – for example, matrons were particularly keen participants in Juno’s festival (Matronalia) while merchants were especially keen on Mercury’s festival (Mercuralia) – in the meantime the State took on responsibility for all of the prayers and sacrifices to Gods whose good will was deemed essential to the well being of Rome as a whole. Keeping these things in mind here follows a summary of some of the most important dates, as I see it (noting that this is a blog and not a comprehensive website on the Religio Romana) in the polytheistic calendars (which changed over time) of the Roman era.
Note that it is generally traditional to wear white on Roman festival days. If you have a statue depicting a particular deity in your home you may want to wash it on the festival day sacred to the deity depicted.

Recurring dates
"Sacrifice to Jupiter" by Noel Coypel (b. 1628)
The Kalends (first day of each solar calendar month – the Julian calendar, which is similar to the more commonly used Gregorian calendar, may be the most suitable calendar to use when calculating the date of the Kalends; alternately, one may prefer to use a lunar calendar, which was used in the earliest times, under which the Kalends is the date of the new moon) – sacred to Juno and Janus (Ovid; Macrobius). If you only revere your household (and patron) Gods once a month then the Kalends is traditionally the best day of the month to do it (Propertius). Appropriate offerings to Juno and Janus include wine and/or incense. 

The Ides (fifteenth day of March, May, July and October; thirteenth day of all other solar months; if using a lunar calendar the Ides is the day of the full moon) – sacred to Jupiter (Ovid). Second only to the Kalends (with the Nones being the third most important recurring date), the Ides is another particularly appropriate time to revere the household Gods (Cato). Appropriate offerings to Jupiter include wine and/or incense.

January
1 January – sacred to Janus, God of beginnings; New Year’s day/Kalends of January. See Ovid’s Fasti 1:64-295.
How to celebrate it today:* try to speak only kind words and words of good omen all day, give sweet gifts - especially dates, figs and honey (to sweeten the year), or give money (to usher in prosperity), wear spotlessly clean clothing, and make an offering to Janus (eg, salted bread, incense or wine), who gives his name to the month of January and is the God of entryways and beginnings. Finally, do a little work so that the year shall not be inactive.

February
15 February – sacred to Faunus Lupercus; LupercaliaA particularly important purification and fertility festival during which young men armed with strips of goat-skin (the goats having been formally sacrificed earlier):
“run about naked but for a belt around their waist, striking anyone in their path with the thongs. And women of childbearing age do not try to escape the blows, believing that they help towards fertility and easy childbirth [Plutarch, cited in Beard et al at 120].”
Faunus Lupercus is associated with fertility, esp. of flocks and herds; Juno Lucina (associated with childbirth) was also associated with the festival, as explained by Ovid:
"A Roman Matron" by J W Godward (1905)
“Beneath the Esquiline hill there was a grove, uncut in many years, named after mighty Juno. When they had come here, [Sabine] brides and husbands [who were having problems conceiving] alike went down on bended knee in supplication; then suddenly the tops of the trees trembled and shook, and through her grove the Goddess spoke wondrous words: ‘Let the sacred he-goat enter the Italian matrons.’ 
The crowd was stunned, terrified at the ambiguous utterance. There was an augur … He slaughters a he-goat. Under orders, the girls offered their backs to be beaten with strips cut from the hide. 
The moon ... was renewing her horns, and suddenly the husband was a father, the wife a mother. Thanks to [Juno] Lucina! ... Kindly Lucina, be merciful, I pray, to pregnant girls, and when the burden is ready take it gently from the womb [Ovid, Fasti, 2.435-452].”
See Beard et al at 119-124 and Ovid’s Fasti 2:267-452 for more. 

How to celebrate it today:* clean your home, especially the floors and make an offering of goat (eg, by offering goat meat or baked item shaped like a goat). If you have a group of people, using a bloodied blade, smear goat’s blood (or blood substitute) on the foreheads of two young, naked men and then wipe their foreheads clean with wool soaked in milk (at which point it is important that the young men laugh, so these rituals should be performed in a spirit of enjoyment). The men should then run about (traditionally this was through the streets of Rome) with leather straps made of goat hide and try to lash any onlookers (esp. women). If you are a woman who would like to fall pregnant or have an easy childbirth, seek out the lashings given by one of these young men.

March
1 March – sacred to Juno Lucina; Matronalia. Marked the date of the dedication of the temple to Juno Lucina on the Esquiline hill in 375 BCE. Turcan gives a description of the date thus:
“It was, in fact, a kind of [Roman] mothers’ day when their daughters, and also their husbands, gave them presents (even lovers offered gifts to their mistresses, as if in anticipation …) … Women brought flowers to Juno and wore circlets on their heads to invoke her in her sanctuary on the Esquiline. But sacrifices were also offered in every home for the good fortune of the household, and mothers treated their slaves as their husbands did at the time of Saturnalia. The festival thus sanctified conjugal, parental and domestic cohesiveness, with this simple and Roman concept that family life formed an indivisible whole within the State [Turcan at 34].”
Rüpke’s description is as follows:
“The Matronalia on 1 March was a day of misrule, when social hierarchies were inverted: in theory at any rate female slaves were waited on by their mistresses, though in fact all it probably amounted to was just some better food and extra time off [Rüpke at 190-191].”
See Ovid’s Fasti 3:167-398 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* give a gift to your mother and/or wife and pamper her; make an offering of incense or wine to Juno. 

"Bacchante" by Frederic Leighton (1895)
17 March – sacred to Liber; Liberalia. Liber Pater and Bacchus were often equated with each other. The date was traditionally marked by food-offerings set out in the street and was a popular date on which boys would ritually come of age (they would shave off any facial hair and remove their protective bulla amulets and dedicate them to the household Gods, they would then be bestowed with a toga). This is possibly the most appropriate date on which to celebrate Bacchanalia. Although there are a large number of (mostly 19th century) artworks depicting Bacchanalia, the Bacchanalia was in fact a celebration that tended to be confined to private societies dedicated to the worship of Bacchus. The Bacchanalia was not recorded on any official Roman calendar (of which I am aware). See Turcan at 117-120 and Ovid’s Fasti 3:713-790 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of honey or ivy to Bacchus and then literally let your hair down, get drunk, dance intensely to loud music at night, preferably on a mountain or in a forest, and become ecstatic if possible. Bacchanalia ideally includes women to act as Bacchantes (Bacchus’ priestesses) and can be an all female affair. Orgiastic activities are thought to be in keeping with traditional Bacchanalia but may not be essential. Note that Bacchus is also the God of madness, as well as of wine and ecstasy, and his cult was one of the major mystery religions of the classical world (known more commonly as the Dionysian mysteries), so do not assume that the Bacchanalia is merely a frivolous opportunity to have a good time.

19 March – sacred to Minerva; Minervalia/Quinquatria (19-23 March). Minerva’s birthday feast. Craftsmen and women were the most enthusiastic participants in this festival in honour of the Goddess of skilled craftsmanship. Gladiatorial games were traditionally held during the festival (but not on the 19th) in honour of Minerva’s martial aspect.
“The Quinquatria (so named because they coincided with the fifth day after the ides) … was the anniversary of the temple of Minerva on the Aventine. But Minerva Medica (on the Esquiline) was associated with it to celebrate arts and trades, including professions connected with health: four days of sacrifices and competitions, mainly gladiatorial, for ‘the warrior Goddess likes unsheathed swords’ ... Spinners and weavers, fullers and dyers, shoemakers, carpenters, painters and sculptors, schoolmasters too (who then received the bonus title of minerval, before giving their students a few days’ holiday) thoroughly enjoyed themselves. At that time, too, women created a masterpiece in homage to the divine patroness of the textile industry ... [Turcan at 67].”
See Ovid’s Fasti 3:809-848 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* create a work in Minerva’s honour and/or make an offering of olives.

25 March – sacred to the Magna Mater; Hilaria. The day of joy; celebrated the resurrection of her consort, the God Attis. It was especially popular in the eastern parts of the Roman empire. The day was somewhat similar to Easter Sunday; the Hilaria was a springtime festival at which time:
“the Romans hold a procession in honour of the Mother of the Gods. And all the tokens of private wealth and the treasures of the imperial house – wonders of material and craftsmanship – are conducted in procession before the Goddess. And complete licence is given to everyone for all kinds of sport; and anyone can play the part of whatever character he likes. There is no position so high or exclusive that anyone who chooses cannot get dressed up and play at it, disguising his real identity – so that it is not easy to recognise who is himself and who play-acting [Herodian, cited by Beard et al at 134].”
Note that the day before the Hilaria (24 March) was considered an unlucky “day of blood” – although it is possibly a particularly good day for men to undergo a sex change or for MTF transsexuals to be tattooed: see Turcan at 112-113.
How to celebrate it today:* this is a rite of spring – have a good time, dance to loud music (like the galli) and cross dress like the galli (if you want to). Make an offering of incense, violets, herbs or white cheese to Magna Mater. See my post on The Golden Ass and the Catamite for a more in depth discussion of the nature of the galli.

April
"An Offering to Venus" by
John William Godward (1912)
1 April – sacred to Venus; Veneralia. On this day:
“Yours are the Goddess’ rites, Latin mothers and brides, you, too, without the headband and long gown [ie, prostitutes]. Remove the jewels: bathe the Goddess whole. Dry her neck and return the golden necklace to it; then dress her with flowers and new roses. She tells you, too, to bathe … Appease her with suppliant words. Her power secures beauty and character and noble fame. Rome fell from chastity in our ancestors’ time [ie, some Vestal Virgins broke their vows of chastity]. You ancients consulted Cumae’s crone [the Sibylline books]. She orders a shrine to Venus. It was duly built, and Venus henceforth named ‘Heart-Changer’ [Ovid, Fasti, 4:133-160].”
How to celebrate it today:* roses are a particularly appropriate offering to Venus on this day, otherwise incense, wine, mint and/or myrtle are also suitable. A perfect day to spend time with your lover practicing the arts of Venus. 

12 April – sacred to Ceres; Cerialia (12-19 April). Games (esp. chariot races in the Circus Maximus) in Ceres’ honour were traditionally held and a number of offerings made, including wheat, salt, incense, a sow, a pregnant cow and, in a ritual whose meaning is today unclear, foxes with firebrands on their backs were released in the Circus Maximus on the final day of her festival. See Turcan at 68-69 and Ovid’s Fasti 4:393-620 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of grain (esp. spelt), salt and incense to Ceres. Ceres is a Goddess associated with peacetime therefore iron and steel (associated in ancient times with war) should not be present in her rites.

21 April – sacred to Pales; Parilia. It was both (1) a rustic festival to honour Pales for the well being of flocks and herds, as well as being the date of (2) an urban festival to celebrate the anniversary of Rome’s foundation – thus a birthday celebration of the city itself. It was amongst the most important festivals in the Roman year. See Beard et al at 116-119  and Ovid’s Fasti 4:721-862 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* (1) offer to Pales a calf (eg, by offering calf meat or baked item shaped like a calf) burnt into ashes, horse blood (or blood substitute) and the empty stalk of a hard bean. For more rituals to honour Pales see Ovid’s Fasti. (2) celebrating the founding of Rome – make a lot of noise, listen to music with the volume turned up. Sing, play pipes or the drums. Make an offering to the Goddess Roma – incense is almost certainly appropriate.

28 April – sacred to Flora; Floralia (28 April-3 May). It was a celebration of fertility in honour of Flora, the nymph-Goddess of flowering crops and plants. It was a time of bawdy festivities. People wore colourful clothing, feasted, drank, danced, went to State sponsored entertainments in the arena, the circus and the theatre (some of which included strip-teases by mime actresses) and, given that Flora was a divine patroness of prostitutes (Flora was said to have donated a large sum of money to Rome after selling her own affections), they probably engaged in sexual excess – which is as it should be if we are taking our commitment to fertility seriously. See Ovid’s Fasti 4:943-954 & 5:183-378 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* have a good time, engage in a sexually licentious way, make an offering of flowers to Flora while wearing colourful clothing.

May
May 9 – sacred to the Lemures; Lemuria (May 9, 11, 13). When potentially malevolent ghosts were thought to return to their ancestral homes; ceremonies in honour of the Lemures were performed by the head of the family at this time. Ovid describes the ritual to keep these ghosts away:
“Your ancient rite will be performed, Night Lemuria; there will be offerings to the mute dead … When midnight is here … The man who remembers the ancient rite and fears the Gods rises up (no shoes bind his feet), and makes a thumb sign between his closed fingers [the mano fico] to avoid some ghostly wraith in the quiet. When he has washed his hands clean with fountain water, he turns around after taking black beans, glances away and throws, saying: ‘These I release; I redeem me and mine with these beans.’ He says this nine times and does not look back; a ghost, they think, collects them and trails unseen. He touches the water again, bangs Tamesen bronze, and asks the ghost to depart his house. When he has said nine times, ‘Leave, ancestral spirits!’ He looks back and thinks the pure rite done [Ovid, Fasti 5:421-444].”
While the Lemuria deals with the kind of ghostly spirits you generally don't want hanging around, you may want to honour deceased family members (who are hopefully friendly) during the Parentalia (February) – when families traditionally feasted at the tombs of ancestors and family members and made offerings to their familial dead – depending on your attitude to the afterlife. Roman attitudes to life after death were by no means uniform so it follows that not all Romans would have observed the Parentalia (or the Lemuria). 
How to mark the occasion today:* emulate the ritual Ovid describes.

"Mercury and Turtle" by Albert Harnisch (1879)
15 May – sacred to Mercury; Mercuralia. It was a feast day which marked the date on which a temple to Mercury was built by the Circus Maximus in Rome in 495 BCE. Merchants were particularly keen to honour Mercury with incense in the hope that Mercury would boost their profits – Ovid records that merchants on this day would go to a spring sacred to Mercury (by the Porta Capena) and with tunics hitched draw the sacred water into a fumigated jar, soak a laurel bough in this and douse everything they had for sale with the soaked laurel. Merchants would also sprinkle their hair with the dripping laurel and utter a prayer – Ovid offers a mocking example of such a prayer including the words “grant me profit, grant joy in the profit made, and make cheating the buyer a pleasure [Ovid, Fasti 5: 663-692].
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of incense to Mercury. Read a really good book, take a good look at your finances and get them in order, consider travel plans and pay particular attention to any dreams you have. See also  my earlier blogpost entitled Prayer to Mercury.

June
9 June  – sacred to Vesta; Vestalia. Millers, bakers and mill donkeys had a day off. Donkeys were garlanded with flowers and loaves hung around their necks. Women participated in barefoot processions to Vesta’s sacred building (Vesta’s famous round “temple” was technically not a templum but an aedes sacra – a sacred building) and were permitted to see the inner chamber between 7-15 June. On the 15th Vesta's building was thoroughly cleaned.  See Ovid’s Fasti 6:249-460 for more. 
How to celebrate it today:* bake bread and ritually offer this to Vesta on the 9th; spring clean your home on the 15th. 

24 June – sacred to Fortuna. A day of merry making and drunkenness. See Ovid’s Fasti 6:773-784 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering (eg, incense) to Fortuna. Today is perhaps a particularly appropriate day to gamble.

July
5 July – sacred to Jupiter; Poplifugia, which literally means “scattering of the people”. The nature of the day is uncertain but it seems to have been observed for close to 1000 years (from perhaps as early as Numa’s time right up until the rise of Christianity), so it was evidently a significant day.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering (eg, incense, wine and/or cinnamon) to Jupiter. Today is perhaps a particularly appropriate day to get out into the outdoors and really experience the weather.

15 July - sacred to Castor and Pollux. This day was particularly celebrated by knights, who paraded on their horses from the Porta Capena (sacred to Mars) to the Capitol (sacred to Jupiter), while passing before the temple of Castor and Pollux, to whom they made a ritual offering (Turcan at 75).
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering (eg, incense or wine) to Castor and Pollux. Today is perhaps a particularly appropriate day to share a meal with a longstanding friend who has been there for you though thick and thin.

23 July – sacred to Neptune; the Neptunalia. People would construct temporary huts or tents for themselves in the open air, presumably by the river Tiber, and eat, drink and be merry.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering (eg, wine) to Neptune. Today is perhaps a particularly appropriate day to have a picnic (or dine at a restaurant) while overlooking the sea, a lake or a river.

August
5 August – sacred to Salus; circus games were held in her honour (thus horse races) and a cow was offered to her.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering (eg, incense) to Salus. Get really clean, have a long bath, take good care of your health, eat only very healthy food or do a light, cleansing fast for the day.

"Diana and Endymion" by Jerome-Martin Langlois (1822)
13 August – Sacred to Diana; birthday of Diana (Beard et al at 294) and the date of the dedication of the temple of Diana on the Aventine Hill (Fowler at 198). Relatedly, in Plutarch’s Roman Questions (100) the Ides of August is mentioned as a date when slaves have a day off and Roman women “wash and cleanse” their heads, but he does not mention Diana. However it is known that slaves and women were particularly likely to appeal to Diana for protection. In The Golden Bough Frazer states that:
“during her annual festival, held on the thirteenth of August, at the hottest time of the year, her grove [by lake Nemi, in the Alban hills near Rome, where there was a shrine to her] shone with a multitude of torches, whose ruddy glare was reflected by the lake … and women whose prayers had been heard by her came crowned with wreaths and bearing lighted torches to the sanctuary [Frazer at 12]”.
This appears to paraphrase Ovid’s description of rituals performed at the shrine by lake Nemi in his Fasti (3:261-284) – however Ovid mentions no date in relation to rituals performed there. The name of celebrations observed at the shrine by lake Nemi may be termed Nemoralia (Lempriere). In our own times the Nemoralia has become widely known as the name of Diana’s sacred day.
How to celebrate it today:* go to the hairdresser and get your hair washed and cut – make a subsequent offering of locks of your hair to Diana. Failing that, incense is an acceptable offering.

23 August – sacred to Vulcan; Volcanalia. Fittingly took place during the hottest time in the Roman year. Bonfires were lit on this day in Vulcan’s honour. Turcan describes the festival thus:
“A written fragment from the Arval Records stipulates this day (23 August) for sacrificing, not only to Vulcan, but also to the Nymphs, Juturna and Ops Opifera. The deities of water, so necessary in case of a blaze, were thus propitiated at the same time. But the Volcanalia were chiefly singled out by a substitution rite. On 23 August, small live fish were thrown on to the fire pro se (‘to redeem oneself’ or ‘for one’s well being’) wrote Varro … ‘in place of human souls’ says Festus more precisely … They could be bought on the area Volcani (at the foot of the Capitol) where perhaps the sacrifice took place. In this way people contented the god of fire so that they did not have to suffer from its effects [Turcan at 77].” 
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of incense to Vulcan. If possible light a bonfire. Consider a proxy offering of human or fish shaped biscuits (placed directly into a fire lit in Vulcan’s honour). 

September
13 September – sacred to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva; ludi Romani (originally 13 September, but by the reign of Augustus extended to over half the month of September) celebrated the anniversary of the foundation of the Capitoline temple and were thus dedicated to the official triple-deities of the State – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. These ludi (literally “games”) were so significant that they were also called the ludi magni (literally “great games”) and were particularly well known for their horse and chariot racing in the Circus Maximus, as well as State sponsored gymnastic competitions and theatrical shows. See Beard et al at 137-139 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva and go to a horse race, a wrestling match, or the theatre.

October
1 October – sacred to Fides (Faith). On this day Fides' priests would celebrate the divine service “with their hands covered as far as the fingers, to signify that Faith must be sheltered and that her seat is holy even when it is in men's right hands” (Livy). The worship of Fides dates to the earliest days of Rome, when Numa instituted yearly sacrifices to the Goddess (note that some scholars hypothesise that the masculine Dius Fidius, associated with the swearing of sacred oaths, was identical to Fides).  She had a temple in Rome since at least the 3rd century BCE and was depicted on coinage until the 3rd century CE.
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of incense to Fides and live the day with a spirit of trust and honesty.

"Mars Disarmed by Venus" by Jacques-Louis David (1824)
19 October – sacred to Mars; Armilustrium. Weapons were ritually purified and shields were put away for the winter. This effectively signaled the end of the military year (which began again in March).
How to celebrate it today:* make a propitiatory offering of bloody meat or wine to Mars (as the God of war it follows that he can protect you from the chaos of war).

November
27 November – sacred to Antinous; marked the date of his birthday. Worshippers wore white and made offerings of incense and wine to Antinous. Members of the Society of Diana and Antinous went to the public baths on this day before attending a banquet in Antinous' honour. See Beard et al at 292-294 for more.
How to celebrate it today:* emulate as described above. See this post for more ideas. 

December
17 December – sacred to Saturn; Saturnalia (17-23 December). It honoured the God Saturn, an important agricultural deity of abundance, who is associated with a past golden age. It was one of the most important festivals in the Roman year. See my post on Saturnalia for more.
How to celebrate it today:* make merry for this is a festival associated with joy, optimism and good will. Have a feast, throw a party, or go to a pub (or to a bar) with friends. Make an offering to Saturn (gingerbread men may be especially appropriate – there is no need to cover your head when offering to Saturn). Decorate your home with golden decorations (to evoke the “golden age” of Saturn). Give gifts, role swap, upend social hierarchies, play games, eat good food, drink wine and proclaim “Io Saturnalia!”

25 December – Sacred to Apollo; the Natalis Invicti celebrated the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” (Sol Invictus). It appears to have been most popular in the 4th century CE and may not have been widely celebrated before the 3rd century CE. Apollo was commonly associated with Sol in ancient times therefore the date honours Apollo. 
How to celebrate it today:* make an offering of nine sticks of incense to the Sun (Sol) with head uncovered. Eat a feast in honour of the Sun. As just about all crops, except mushrooms, require the sun to grow perhaps any food that is born of the sun is suitable. However, avoiding the flesh of cows may be called for, given that at least two myths about Apollo connect him to keeping sacred cattle (with both Mercurius and the friends of Ulysses infamously stealing from his herd). Likewise, choose decorations for the house that evoke the sun – gold in particular, with oranges and reds also being appropriate. Golden stars are an obvious motif for solar Christmas decorations (for the sun is a star), as are Christmas balls (for this reflects the shape of the sun), while horses, spoke wheels and chariots (symbolic of the sun chariot of Indo-Europeans religions) would also be appropriate. Symbols of Apollo, including musical instruments – especially lyres – musical notes, the archer’s bow, bay laurel and hyacinth are other ideas.
 
Purpose
I also want to say a word about the purpose of religious dates in the Roman calendar. I think Shelton does a great job in illuminating this:
“It was the purpose of Roman religion to gain the good will of divine forces … since the benevolence of the Gods could ensure the success and prosperity of both the individual and the community, it was essential that all citizens strive to establish a correct relationship with the Gods and to maintain Pax Deroum, “peace with the Gods”. Pax was a state of order, regularity, harmony, and discipline … It was the environment in which humans could be productive and successful because they were free from anxiety about disruption or disorder.
"Invocation" by Frederic Leighton (b. 1830)
Maintaining Pax Deorum, however, was a continual process. The Roman Gods did not demand constant professions of faith, but they did require that humans respect their power and acknowledge their participation in the universe …
In addition to the prayers and vows that were made … there were fixed dates or festivals … On festival days, there were prayers and sacrifices and usually some ritual procedures … although many families celebrated the festivals with private prayers and sacrifices, the State assumed the responsibility of public prayers and sacrifices to ensure that no deity whose good will was necessary for the survival of the State was neglected … It was the correct performance of the ritual, and not the number of people attending it, which evidently mattered most … [Shelton at 370-379].” 
Remember the Household Gods
Note also that Cato records that offerings to the household Gods should be made on festival days (as well as the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides – Propertius suggests that the Kalends was the most important of the three dates). Therefore, if you decide to mark an ancient Roman festival in some way you should ensure that you also honour the household Gods at your home shrine (eg, with food plates, honey, honeycomb, grapes, rosemary and/or garlands) on that day.


* These are merely suggestions as to how one might mark the day and are indicative of my own style of polytheism. There are undoubtedly many other valid ways to mark the occasion should you wish to do so.
 
Sources
  • Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook
  • Cato, On Agriculture
  • Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic
  • Frazer, The Golden Bough
  • Lempriere, A Classical Dictionary
  • Ovid, Fasti (Penguin & Oxford University Press editions)
  • Plutarch, Roman Questions
  • Propertius, The Elegies
  • Rüpke, The Religion of the Romans
  • Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion 
  • Shelton, As the Romans Did
  • Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome
Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook.

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