Today, March 1, the Romans celebrated Matronalia, a festival celebrating Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth ("Juno who brings children into the light"), and of motherhood (mater is "mother" in Latin) and women in general.
Matronalia is a celebration of women and power as well as a celebration of virtuous marriage, marked by gifts from husband to wife, from lovers to young women, and feasts given by the wives for their female slaves. It was celebrated by both the Roman matrons and virgins. At this festival Juno was represented veiled, with a flower in her right hand, and an infant in swaddling clothes in her left. In the time of the republic, the public festival was for only one day, but in private houses, the celebration continued for seven days. Prayers were offered to the goddess for a fruitful marriage, and husbands give gifts to their wives while temple fires were lit welcoming the new growth to the earth.
In the worship of Juno Lucina, women untied knots and unplaited their hair – sympathetic magic to prevent entanglements in the delivery of babies. She was in charge of newborn infants, and a woman in labor might make offerings to her so that she would have a safe delivery of a healthy child.
Women and girls prayed to her and brought offerings for prosperity in marriage. Gifts were exchanged, people feasted on similla, cakes decorated it with 12 balls of marzipan around the edges. and everyone treated the ladies exceptionally well on this day. Cakes with a similar name, simnel cakes, are associated with Mothering Sunday in England from which Mothers’ Day is derived.
Today is a day to celebrate the birth of your true self. Perhaps call your mother or take time to say a prayer of thanks for the gift of your life.
Perhaps celebrate with your version of a similla cake:
1 cup margarine, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
1 1/3 cups golden raisins
1 cup dried currants
2/3 cup candied cherries - rinsed, dried and quartered
1/4 cup candied mixed fruit peel, chopped
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 pound almond paste
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 egg, beaten
1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 inch springform pan. Line the bottom and sides of pan with greased parchment paper.
2.In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour. Stir in the golden raisins, currants, candied cherries, mixed fruit, lemon zest and mixed spice. Pour 1/2 of batter into prepared pan.
3.Divide almond paste into 3 equal portions. Roll out 1/3 of the almond paste to an 8 inch circle. Place the circle of almond paste on the cake batter in pan. Cover with remaining cake batter.
4.Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until evenly brown and firm to the touch. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil after an hour of baking. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Set oven to broil.
5.When the cake has cooled, brush the top with warmed apricot jam. Roll out 1/3 of the almond paste into an 8 inch circle and place on top of cake. Divide the remaining 1/3 of almond paste into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Brush the almond paste on top of cake with beaten egg. Arrange the 12 balls around the outside edge on the top of cake. Brush the balls lightly with egg.
6.Place cake under the broiler for 8 to 10 minutes, or until almond paste is golden brown.
It will look something like this: