What's the Liberalia? Just after the Ides of March (a whole other post) was the celebration of Pater Liber and Liberia. It was a state festival AND a personal feast AND considered a rustic festival as well, or a farmer's holy day of obligation. Liber and Liberalia are protectors of the seed, which has just been planted.
On the personal or family level, this is the Italian Bar Mitzvah! When Boys became Men (Girls became Women at menarche)! Boys would take the talisman they'd wear for protection from The Eye (the bulla) along with their boyhood clothes- the toga praetexta, and burn them in offering to The Lare. The boys would get their "Toga Virilis" and be officially welcomed into the company of men. No wonder there was so much drinking! I bet they'd drink the newly minted men under the table. No doubt there was also the visit to the sacred prostitutes and an "initiation into the art of love." Nice way of saying they got the new men drunk and lost their virginity. Stories are told about how Mothers would keep the son's bulla and not let it burn so their son would be protected through their life.
With all the talk of seed protection and drunkenness, it's hard to not think of Ceres, Proserpine and Bacchus. It was hard for the ancients too: There was a temple dedicated to this triad with Liber and Liberia being likened to/syncretized/identified with Bacchus and Proserpine.
This celebration had its high class elements and its low class elements. Liber and Libera were deities of freedom and therefore of slaves. Their fest was a way of letting off steam. Quoth the holy wiki"
Liber's festivals are timed to the springtime awakening and renewal of fertility in the agricultural cycle. In Rome, his annual Liberalia public festival was held on March 17. A portable shrine was carried through Rome's neighbourhoods (vici); Liber's aged, ivy-crowned priestesses offered honey cakes for sale, and offered sacrifice on behalf of those who bought them – the discovery of honey was credited to Liber-Bacchus. Embedded within Liberalia, more or less at a ritualistic level, were the various freedoms and rights attached to Roman ideas of virility as a divine and natural force. Young men celebrated their coming of age; they cut off and dedicated their first beards to their household Lares and if citizens, wore their first toga virilis, the "manly" toga – which Ovid, perhaps by way of poetic etymology, calls a toga libera (Liber's toga or "toga of freedom"). These new citizens registered their citizenship at the forum and were then free to vote, to leave their father's domus (household), choose a marriage partner and, thanks to Liber's endowment of virility, father their own children.
Liber is credited with the invention of honey, which ties into the Bacchic and Dionysian lore. There was a LOT of overlap, including Liber being credited with protecting the grape. However, even in ancient days, Liber and Bacchus were seen as very distinct entities. In fact, Bacchinals were outlawed. Likely because of their Siclian/Southern Italian origins and the repression of the lower classes by the 1% (the more things change, huh?)
The same way celtic based wicca eclipses every tradition out there (it's been called the loud neon light of paganism), I'm tired of every Irish holiday eclipsing the Italian ones. I remember the stories about how the Irish immigrants lived on one side of the street and the Italian immigrants on the other side and there was constant fighting. Literal fisticuffs. Kids getting jumped on the way to/from school It was Jets n Sharks time and the cops didn't care because who cares when the rabble fight amongst themselves?
Italians wear Red on this festival day for many reasons, not the least of which being to piss off their Irish neighbors! Red is, of course for Rome, protection against The Eye (which Pater Liber was- He was the horn which warded off evil! That's one reason why the phallus processed through the town). Red is also the different color in the Irish and Italian flags. Orange was worn, allegedly, by those protesting the church- the rebellious Irish. Red was worn by the Italians as an FU ;) (Also, St Joseph's day is March 19th and red is worn on his day too!). The Green/White/Red stripe flag of Italy wasn't adopted officially until after WW2 so it was likely an early start to the Italian feast of St. Joseph, but who knows- a lot of these clashes were happening in the 40s and 50s- The Irish showed up and settled, then waves of Italians came so the Irish were no longer low man on the ladder and picked on the Italians until new waves of immigrants arrived from other lands.
So when I wear red tomorrow, know that I'm flippin all of you the bird and taking back this drunken celebration of Spring for Italia! ;) And I'm still gonna make zeppoles on the 19th! Ha!
PS: Patrick was Roman :P Haha!