This time of year is important in many religious and secular traditions. February holds many traditional celebrations like Mardi Gras and Valentines Day. Both modern celebrations have their roots and correspondences with ancient festivals of the Greek and Roman world. Valentines Day, at least in its connection to lust and kinky sex, can be connected to the Roman Lupercalia. Mardi Gras or Carnival season is a modern version of Anthesteria, a festival of Dionysos and the dead. Beginning around Valentines Day, is the Greek month of Anthesterion; named for the festival Anthesteria. The festival “Anthesteria” means the flowers referring to grape blooms. Anthesteria is one of the four Dionysia, held for three days, and a large part of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Anthesteria is also a festival that honors the dead, believed to roam the cities like during Carnival. This wine-drinking festival celebrates both new wines maturity and the opening of the caskets (Pithoi) and the start of spring. Mythically, this festival celebrates the release of Ariadne to Dionysus and the reuniting of the lovers. (Again with the romantic love…) Athens and the Ionian cities celebrated Anthesteria. Like many other Dionysian festivals, slaves were invited to take part in the festivites with households. This festival for all participants involved was a liberating experience celebrating the sacred marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne.
The festival begins with Pithoigia, people offered libations of the new wines to Dionysus. To prepare for the festival, the household and all children over the age of three were covered in spring flowers. The second day, Choes, was a day of drinking and fun. Like Mardi Gras, participants dressed sometimes in costume and went to parties. Drinking contests were a tradition and offerings of spirits to the dead were also given. At the temple of Dionysos a sacred marriage ceremony was undertaken between the “Queen” (basilissa) of the festival and Dionysos. Also during festivities the participants choose a “king” (basileus) to become the god in a mystical marriage. We can see remnants of this festival in Mardi Gras celebrations were Kings and Queens of the court elected today. The third day (Chytroi) honors the dead. On this day, food cooked for the dead left on altars and at graveyards as offerings to Hermes and the souls of the dead. At the end of the festival, the dead (or Kreres/Cairns) are ritually expelled from the cities after being entertained by the festivities.