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March Holidays

Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

March 1 St David’s Day

March, various, fierce, and wild, with wind-crack’d cheeks
By wilder Welchman led, and crown’d with leeks!
— Churchill, “Gotham” iii 101

St David was an abbot and a bishop of the sixth century who established a monastery at Pembrokeshire in Wales, and is considered the patron saint of Wales.

To show your Welsh allegiance, wear a daffodil. To become a honorary Welshman, eat a leek. Some say eating a leek celebrates a Welsh victory in the 6th century, where the Welsh, advised by St. David, wore leeks in their caps to distinguish themselves in battle from the Saxons. Others say it is the plant of Wales because it is green and white, the colors of the Welsh flag. There's also a tradition that eating leeks in March is good medicine.

Eat leeks in March and ramsons [wild garlic] in May
And all the year after the physicians may play

Upon St David’s Day
Put oats and barley in the clay

Folk custom says that sowing sweet peas between the feasts of St. David and St. Chad will produce larger and more fragrant flowers (see also Mar 17 and Mar 21 when the same conditions apply).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

March 1 Matronalia
On this day Roman women went to her temple on the Equiline Hill to pay their respects to Juno Lucina, who was pictured veiled, holding a flower in one hand and an infant in the other. Men gave presents to their wives. Just as Saturnalia reversed the male social order, Matronalia reversed the female social order and women waited on their female servants.

The Romans made a cake out of very fine white flour (similla) and decorated it with 12 balls of marzipan around the edges. A similar sort of cake, simnel cakes, are associated with Mothering Sunday, possibly a remnant of this ancient festival, and with the Festival of Cronus.

March 1: Roman New Year
On the first day of the Roman year (although I've always believed that was celebrated on the 15th of March--perhaps this one is a remnant of a new moon festival and the 15th a remnant of a full moon festival), the sacred fire of Vesta was tended and fresh laurels were put on the Regia (home of the pontifex maximus), the homes of the flamines (priests of particular deities) and the Curiae Veteres (center of the ancient curiae--the divisions of the city, like parishes). The Salii (whose name means Leapers) processed in honor of Mars, each carrying a special figure-eight shield called ancilia. They did a special leaping dance which Frazer believed was meant to show the plants in the fields on how to grow.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

March 1: The Sharp Days
This was considered the first day of the year in Venice and in Russia until the fourteenth century. It was also the first day of the Ottoman financial year.

The Greeks say that good weather begins on March 1st. Supposedly, a thread left out overnight on a rosebush, then tied around the wrist or big toe will protect the wearer and is worn until Easter Day. St John Chrysostom complained of this custom (see March 22) and that of tying bells on children to protect them.

In the Dodecanese and elsewhere, children go around with the effigy of a swallow singing a song in honor of the bird and the fine weather it brings and asking for food offerings. This custom derives from ancient Rhodes.

The first three days of March are called Sharp Days: One should not wash clothes (for they will wear out), chop wood (or it will rot) or bathe (for one's hair will fall out).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Leek

March 1 Baba Marta’s Day
Before the first day of March in Bulgaria, people give each other martenitsas (or martenkas), red and white wool tassels, sometimes with a gold or silver coin attached. On the first day of March, the martenitzas are tied around wrists, trees, house doors, cars, young animals. People greet each other by saying Chestita baba Marta, which means “Happy Grandmother March.” She is considered to be as moody as the weather is changeable during the month of March.

You are supposed to wear the martenitsa until you see the first stork returning from the south, thus signaling the beginning of spring. The red and white colors come from blood and snow in an old story where a stork protects a child whose parents are away. It is said the red color protects you from disease and the white color helps you live longer. This sounds like a protection charm during the dangerous transition between winter and spring, similar to the way Brigid’s crosses are used in the northern Celtic countries. The red color shows up frequently in March, see also Spring Eve (March 21) and the red and white pastries of Hina Matsuri (March 3) and the name of Red Wednesday.

www.b-info.com/places/Bulgaria/BabaMarta/
www.iearn.org.au/food/bmarta.htm
www.eliznik.org.uk/Bulgaria/history/bulgaria_customs.htm

March 2 and 9 Hime-no-Miya
On the first two Sundays in March, the Japanese celebrate the Izanami, the mother goddess of Japan. Her temple at the Oagata-jinja shrine near Inuyama in central Honshu features large cleft rocks, huge clamshells and other sacred items that resemble female genitalia. At her festival, worshippers carry these items through the streets in procession.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

March 2 Mothering Sunday
The fourth Sunday in Lent, the English used to break the Lenten fast, with family reunions and feasts, featuring a cake made of fine flour, called a simnel cake. Gradually it evolved into a holiday, when apprentices and young servants were permitted to go home and visit their families. Although the custom was dying out in the early 20th century, after World War II it became popular again, partly due to the influence of American servicemen who celebrated Mother's Day. Flowers (mothering-posies) and simnels are still traditional gifts. According to Christina Hole, three towns are best known for their simnel cakes. The Shrewsbury simnel is rich and dark, with a crust of almond paste, decorated with candied fruits and marzipan flowers. Simnels made in Devizes are star-shaped without a crust, and the Bury simnel is flat, and full of currants, spices, almonds and candied peels.

I’ll to thee a simnel bring
Against thou goes a-mothering.
So that when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou will give to me.
Old rhyme quotes in Dark Angels by Karleen Koen.

In France, laundresses broke the solemnity of the Lenten fast by electing a queen for each district, then a queen of queens. Parades and processions honored the queens, followed by a big ball at night. In Italy, this Sunday is called Mezza Quaresima. A doll called La Vecchia (the old one) is cut in half, releasing a shower of delicacies. Then the doll is burnt. Sometimes La Vecchia is represented by an old tree.

Also known as Refreshment Sunday, because the gospel tells of the feeding of the five thousand and in some places, the priest blesses loaves of bread and distributes them to the people on this day. Since the epistle also mentions Jerusalem, it was a traditional day for visiting the cathedral or mother church of a diocese in procession.

In Flanders, the Count of Mid-Lent gives good children presents on this day.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978
Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun, Oxford University Press 1997
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

March 2 St Chad
Born in Northumbria, Chad became an abbot in Yorkshire, founded a monastery in Lincolnshire, and a bishop of the Mercians at Lichfield. His name is associated with wells and springs that heal. He is also noted for his love of walking. St Theodore of Canterbury insisted he ride a horse because walking was beneath him.

He is often associated with St David in agricultural rhymes:

Sow beans and peas on David and Chad
Be the weather good or bad.

By Valentine’s Day
Every good hen, duck or goose should lay
By David and Chad
Every hen, duck or goose should lay, good or bad
March 2 Choli Holi
The day before Holi is called “small Holi.” In the days before the holiday, people pile up rubbish, firewood and cow-dung around a central pole. Sometimes an image of the demoness Holika is set on a log with an image of the child Prahad on her lap. Holika’s image is made of combustible materials while the image of the child is not. A pot of new barley seeds is buried under the pile and the fire is lit when the moon rises on this day. In some places, coins and coconuts are thrown into the fire. Women circle the fire dancing and singing. Mothers carry their babies around the fire five times clockwise so the children will be blessed by Agni, the god of fire. People watch the flames for signs about the coming harvest; the seeds in the buried pot are examined for further clues. Sometimes people take home embers to kindle their own fires (all of this sounds very like the spring festival to Mihr in Armenia). The next morning, ashes from the fire are collected and smeared on the body for protection from diseases. At the same time, the singed coconuts are gathered and eaten.

http://webonautics.com/ethnicindia/festivals/holi.html
Harshananda, Swami, “Holi or Holika,” www.hinduism.co.za/holi-.htm
“Holi, Colors of Joy,” www.hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa030401a.htm

March 3 St Winnold

First comes David
Then comes Chad,
Then comes Winnold roaring like mad.

If it’s not stormy and windy the first three days in March, it’s saving itself for the three borrowing days at the month’s end. The winds of March were considered to dry out the fields and make the soil right for seeding.

I didn’t know anything about St Winnold who has a wonderfully windy name. One of my readers sent me a snippet of text from JR Baker's Potted History of Royden about a famous horse fair known as St Winnold's Fayre, because it was held on St Winnold's Day in Downham Market (East Anglia).

Windy day

March 3 Hina Matsuri/Doll Festival
The first day of the month-long Japanese festival honoring the Emperor and Empress. All unmarried females set up a display of dolls, usually on tiered shelves, with the Emperor and Empress doll at the top, dressed in wedding attire, and their retinue (court ladies, musicians, ministers and guards) on the lower tiers. Flowering sprigs of peach are placed in vases on the top shelf where they symbolize marital bliss and represent the feminine virtues of gentility, tranquility and composure.

The dolls are valuable heirlooms, passed down from mother to daughter. If there is not a set to pass down or in families with several daughters, new dolls are purchased by family, friends or parents as gifts for the new baby girl. Some girls receive a new doll on each birthday. Women display the dolls until they marry (then they save them to pass down to their daughter).

During the month the dolls are displayed, people go to each other's homes to visit the dolls. Many stories tell about the dolls talking among themselves during the night, eating food left out for them, and even growing their own hair.

Like the Western superstitions about the bad luck which occurs if you leave your Christmas decorations up past Candlemas, the Japanese believe the display must be taken down promptly on April 3. If not, the owner will have trouble marrying. Apparently the dolls serve as a sort of charm, inviting the marital bliss exemplified by the Emperor and Empress into the life of the girl or young woman. In smaller sets, the Emperor and Empress are often replaced with rabbits.

In the early part of the century, Hina-Matsuri provided a rare chance for a young Japanese girl to invite her friends to a party, at which they feasted on sweets and foods offered to the dolls. Sometimes they actually prepared and cooked these offerings. Traditional foods include shirozake, or white sake, a sweet mild rice wine, hishi mochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes colored green, white and peach), hini-arare (pink, white and green rice crackers), and chirashi sushi (seafood, mushrooms and green vegetables spread over sushi rice). The colors are said to represent peach blossoms (pink), earth/snow (white) and the green of spring trees.

In earlier times, the dolls were made of paper and ill fortunes and sickness could be transferred to the dolls, which were then cast into the nearest brook or river (see the Roman celebration of Mamuralia, March 14).

This day is also known as Momo-no-Sekku or Peach Blossom Festival. Originally celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month, it more closely coincided with the blooming of the peach blossoms.

From a firsthand account following her visit to Japan by my friend Shirley Dawson-Myers published in her now hibernating Hazel Grove Musings, and from this website:
http://mothra.rerf.or.jp/ENG/Hiroshima/Festivals/36.html



March 4 St Casimir
Son of a 15th century King of Poland, he rejected his father's plans to make him King of Hungary, preferring to pursue the spiritual life. He was buried in Lithuania and became the patron saint of Lithuania and Poland.
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

March 5 Isidis Navigatum
The Romans celebrated the goddess Isis as the patroness of sailors and inventor of the sail. Apuleius has her say, “Devote to my worship the day born of this night…for at this season, the storms of winter lose their force, the leaping waves subside and the sea becomes navigable once more.”

Rufus gives details of a celebration held at a port city near Corinth. Women wore flower garlands and strewed petals; others held mirrors so the goddess could see herself and others sprinkled the streets with perfume. Devotees carried lamps, torches and candles. They were followed by pipers, flutists and choirboys. Beadles called out, “Make way! Make way for the goddess!” Priests advanced toward the sea, dribbling milk from a breast-shaped golden pitcher.

The procession stopped at the seashore, in front of a boat built for the ritual with heiroglyphics painted over the entire hull, a sail of shining white linen, a long fir mast, a gilded prow shaped like the neck of Isis's golden goose and a long keel cut from a solid trunk of citrus wood. The hold was loaded with spice and other offerings. Priests cut the moorings and sent off the ship as an offering to “the queen of the stars, the mother of the seasons, the mistress of the universe.”

Z Budapest suggests blessing your boats with incense or casting flowers into the sea for luck.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Budapest, Z,
Grandmother of Time, Harper 1989

March 7 First Friday in March
Propitious for all kinds of magic, according to the witches of Catemaco in Mexico.

From A Trip to the Light Fantastic, Katie Hickman, Harper Collins 1995

March 7 New Moon in Pisces
This is the beginning of the Greek lunar month of Elaphabolion.

The Chinese called this new moon the Budding Moon; in Peking, people celebrated the birthday of flowers. Sun-cakes were sacrificed to the sun and fires were extinguished.

In the Jewish calendar, this is the second month of Adar, which repeats in leap years, when an extra lunar month is added to the calendar. Because Adar falls in the spring months and contains the joyful holiday of Purim, there is a saying that “When Adar arrives, joy increases,” It is as if Adar were pregnant with happiness, and some years it contains so much happiness, it takes two Adars to contain all the joy. Beginning in the second century, the twelve calendar months were associated with the twelve tribes of Israel. Some traditions associate this thirteenth month with Dina, Leah’s only daughter.

Maxine Fraade in an article for the website Ritualwell suggests a series of questions for women to contemplate on the new moon of Adar. Since this is the time of the year when life bursts forth from the frozen earth, she invites women to contemplate the ways they hide themselves. In her circles, women go around once finishing this sentence: “I sometimes have to hide my true nature from the world because….” And then a second time saying, “If I could tell the world one thing about myself, I would say….”

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Fraade, Maxine, “Rosh Chodesh Ceremony for Adar,” www.ritualweel.org/rituals/ritual.html?docid=925
Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women and Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, “Essence of Adar II,” http://www.ritualwell.org/Rituals/ritual.html?docid=939

March 8 Forty Saints Eve
In Rumania before World War II, farm families asked the Forty Saints for good weather for the next 40 days by genuflecting 40 times before going to bed on the evening of March 8. The following day, barns were cleaned and farm tools organized. Clearly these are New Year customs.

Egyptian boat

March 8 Strinennia
On this Slavic holiday, people make minages, clay images of larks, smear their heads with honey and then apply tinsel. They carry around the minages singing vesnjnaki (invocations to the gods and goddesses of spring). Birds are thought to bring the Spring with them upon their return.

Children are given pastries in the shape of birds and they toss them into the air outside saying “the rooks have come.” The pastries ensure the return of the birds, who are seen as messengers of love and comfort and companionship.

Joseph Andrejchak Galata courtesy of Kathleen Jenks, whose amazing website Mything Links is a compendium of mythological information.

March 8 International Women's Day
In certain countries, women receive flowers on this day and that seems like a wonderful idea. For more on the history and celebration of the holiday, see the Wikipedia entry:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women's_Day

For a listing of events all over the world on this day, go to:
www.internationalwomensday.com

March 9 Forty Martyrs Day
The forty Martyrs were Christian soldiers of the Thundering Legion (Legio XII Fulminata) who were executed by the emperor Licinius because of their faith. He killed them by making them stand naked in the open air of a field on a cold winter's night. The legion got its name from a battle in 172 in Slovakia when they were besieged but saved from dying of thirst by a sudden rainstorm, followed by a thunderstorm which ran off their attackers. The Egyptian God Thoth was credited with the miraculous weather, but the Christian soldiers claimed it was their own prayers which had brought deliverance.

This holiday is celebrated by eating foods which contain the number 40, for instance, forty layers of pastry, forty different kinds of herbs or grains, forty pancakes.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

March 9 Carling Sunday
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the English began the practice of eating peas cooked in butter on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Since the peas were called carlings, the day became know as Carling or Care Sunday. Although not explicitly stated in folk custom, it seems appropriate to eat seeds at this time of the year. The butter added a touch of luxury to a food, that with beans, was a staple of the Lenten fast.

Hutton, Ronald, Stations of the Sun, Oxford University Press 1997

March 9 Dragon Raises Head
On the second day of the second lunar month, the Chinese eat dragon-scale cakes and dragon-whisker noodles. No one does needlework as needles might injure the dragon's eyes. Earlier this day was called Mid(spring) Harmony.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

March 9 Daylight Saving Time begins
Spring forward in time as 1:59 AM is followed by 3 AM. For more information on daylight savings time, go to:
http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/j.html

Bird in a nest

March 12 St Gregory
Belgian students lock up their teachers in honor of the patron saint of schoolboys and scholars, and demand a holiday and other concessions.

This is the famous Gregory whose name is preserved in Gregorian chant, for the songs which were codified during the time he was pope. He was also responsible for sending missionaries to the English after seeing some blond-haired Anglo slaves in the streets of Rome (he punned on their name calling them “angels”).

In runic calendars, his day is marked with a dove, one of his symbols, which is sometimes reinterpreted as a crow, whose inland migration occurs in spring. Sometimes his symbol is a strip of land, perhaps a reminder to manure land on this day, or a book, because Gregory was learned. In Denmark and medieval England, children were first sent to school on this day, since it augured well for their success at their studies.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

March 12 Red Wednesday or Chahar Shanbeh Suri
Since spring equinox is the first day of the New Year in Persia, Persians used to celebrate the ten days before with the feasts, bonfires and house-cleaning rituals, familiar from other New Year celebrations. The celebration culminates on the last Wednesday of the year which is called Chahar Shanbeh Suri. Bonfires are built on Tuesday night and people leap over the flames of the bonfires saying "sorkhie tu az man, zardieh man az tu" which means "Your fiery red color is mine and my sickly yellow paleness is yours." Sometimes the bonfires burn all night long. Earlier in the evening, children and adults wrapped in shrouds, run through the streets, beating on pans and pots with spoons to "beat out" the unlucky Wednesday. Firecrackers are set off and wishes are made. After making a wish, you can stand at an intersection or hide behind a wall and listen to the conversation of passers-by to glean clues about the unfolding of your wish. This is called Fal-Gush, "listening for one's fortune."

As with other New Year celebrations, special foods are served which have symbolic significance: a noodle soup and a mixture of seven dried fruits and nuts including pistachios, roasted chick peas, almond, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins.

www.persianoutpost.com/htdocs/ChaharShanbehSuri.html

March 13 Elaphebolia
On the sixth day of Elaphebolion, Artemis Elaphebolos was honored with offerings of deer-shaped honey cakes made from dough, honey and sesame seeds.

Check out this web site
www.geocities.com/athens/parthenon/6670/doc/fest.html#Elaphebolia

March 14 White Day
In Japan, men return the favors and gifts they received on Valentine's Day (in Japan, only women give gifts, usually chocolate, on Valentine's Day). This holiday may have been invented in the 1960's by a marshmallow manufacturer and marshmallows are given as gifts, but so are other candies and flowers.

www.asiasoft.com/English/japanese-holidays.html

March 14 Mamuralia
In The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer describes a Roman custom which he says took place on March 14th, of driving a man clad in skins, out of the city, by beating him with long rods, made of branches with the bark peeled off. The man was called Mamurius Veturis, or Old Mars, and Frazer speculates that he represented the old year. He then bases this assumption on the date of the festival which he says took place on the day before the first full moon of the old Roman year (which began on March 1st). It seems what he means is that an old lunar holiday, celebrated on the 14th day of the first lunar month of the year, was later transferred to the solar date of March 14th.

Frazer, Sir James, The New Golden Bough, Abridged, New American Library 1959

March 15 Tagata Honen-Sai
The Japanese honor the male god, Izanagi, who with his consort, Izanami created the world. A ten-foot long wooden phallus is carried out of his shrine at Tagata-jinja near Inuyama in central Honsu and through the streets. Its bearers offer libations to the farmers whose fields they pass, presumably to inseminate them.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994


St. Gregory

March 15 Ides of March
Ovid in Fasti mentions the procession of Anna Perenna on this day, in which a drunken old woman known as the Petreia, is dragged along the streets by a drunken old man, who may represent Mamurius Veturis [see March 14]. Both of these figures seem to represent the old year, much like modern American depictions of Grandfather Time on New Year's Eve.

Anna Perenna is a goddess of annual return. In one legend, Mars asks her to help him seduce Minerva but she takes Minerva's place and then mocks the god when he recognizes her. This accounts for the bawdy songs sung at her festival.

The common people of Rome picnicked in a grove and amused themselves by singing, dancing and drinking a cup of wine for each year of one's age. Obviously the tradition of getting drunk on St. Patrick's Day (or near the equinox) has ancient roots.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

March 15 City Dionysia
This six-day festival in honor of Dionysus began on the eighth day of Elaphebolion with sacrifices of bulls and pigs. It continued with processions, theatre performances and dances, with the final ceremonies held under the full moon.

Anna Perenna
Anna Perenna

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