The Parentalia, Feralia, and Caristia

Di benedicaris vos.

The Parentalia was an ancient Roman festival dedicated to the spirits of the dead. During this festival, which would last from XIII ad XXI Februario (the 13th to the 21st of February), temples would be closed and locked, officials would conduct no business, and most people were busy at homes and graves offering prayers and sacrificia (sacred offerings) to the di manibus (spirits of the dead).

The festival began with the Vestal Virgins officiating a ceremony; however, this sacra publica (public rite) would lead into the remainder of the festival that was dominated by sacrae privatae (private rites). All through out the festival, the heads of the households and families would appropriate offerings and rites to the spirits of the dead (the Manes or Di Manibus) in their homes and at graves, so as to strengthen the ties between the living and the dead family. The heads of families (mater or pater familias) would offer flower-garlands, wheat, salt, wine-soaked bread, and violets.

On the last day of the festival, the Feralia, sacra privata would be held at the graves of the deceased, where a final offering was given at a decorated tomb of one’s ancestors (the spirits of the dead were thought to sit atop their tombs before returning to the Underworld until the next year). The head of the family would exorcise and placate the spirits of the dead at midnight before their graves; Ovid remarked that this day served as a cleansing day for the Caristia. This final day is known as the Feralia because of the epithet of Jupiter Feretrius, a name given to the role of Jupiter in the observance of oaths and contracts. Oaths and contracts would be made and reaffirmed during this day, often including marriage contracts (though marriage was strictly forbidden during the Parentalia).

After the Parentalia, the Caristia would be celebrated on XXII Februario (22 February); the Caristia is dedicated to the living family, whereas the Parentalia was dedicated to the dead family (di manibus). The family/household, including slaves, (familia meant both) would gather to eat and all hatred would be forgotten in preparation of the New Year. Gifts would be shared amongst the family, much like the Saturnalia.

In sum:

  • The Parentalia (13 – 21 February) was a festival held to honour the family ancestors.
  • The Feralia (21 February) was the last day of the Parentalia, dedicated to exorcising, placating, and celebrating the spirits of the dead (thereby returning them to their graves for another year).
  • The Caristia (22 February) was a festival held to honour the living family and to celebrate the amity between themselves.

Sacra Flameno

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