The Bacchanalia was a religious festival in honor of the wine god Dionysus or, as the Romans called him, Bacchus. The bacchanalia were originally held in secret and only attended by women. (Although it was later thought that some men were admitted to the festival early on.) The festivals occurred on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men, and celebrations took place five times a month.
Dionysus is the ancient Greek god of wine, the inspirer of ritual madness and ecstacy, and a major figure of Greek mythology. He was also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces. In addition to winemaking, he is the patron deity of agriculture and the theatre. He was also known as the Liberator, freeing one from one's normal self, by madness, ecstasy or wine.
In 186 BC the Senate decreed that the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree, the Bacchanalia survived in Southern Italy long past the repression.
Livy (the Roman historian) says that the rapid spread of the cult, which he claims indulged in all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies at its nocturnal meetings, led to the decree to prohibit the festivals. Some modern scholars who view the period with 21st century eyes doubt Livy's account and argue that the Senate acted against the Bacchants for one of the following reasons:
- Women occupied leadership positions in the cult (contrary to the patriarchical Roman values of the time).
- Slaves and the poor were the cult's members and were planning to overthrow the Roman government.
Although Bacchanalia doesn't get it's day or two on the calendar, I think it's a wonderful option to celebrate in lieu of St. Patrick's Day. I just can't drink green beer. But wine and revelry - absolutely. I'm not really up for the orgies and other debauchery that happenend in the 'good old days' but I think I can find enough to keep me suitably distracted!
Whatever you celebrate - Bacchanalia or St. Paddy's Day - do enjoy, and be safe!
(Information taken from www.wikipedia.com and www.about.com)