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March Holidays

Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

March 16 St Urho
Something I approve of: inventing an imaginary saint! In Minnesota in 1956 a Finnish guest at a St Patrick’s Day party invented his own national saint, Urho (the name means “hero”), who supposedly drove the frogs out of Finland just like Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The idea caught on and soon St Urho was the patron saint of Finnish immigrants and of Finnish vineyard workers, who drove grasshoppers out of the country. This exploit was honored in Menahga, Minnesota with a statue showing St Urho with a huge grasshopper on a pitchfork. The inscription on the base of the statue recounts a ritual which has been adopted and elaborated upon, in which people dress in green and purple, dance around with hopping movements like grasshoppers, and drink grape juice.

My friend, Patrick McMonagle, a folk dance historian, has not only invented but annotated a dance in honor of St. Urho:
www.folkdancing.com/Pages/StUrho.htm

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Hutton, Ronald, Stations of the Sun, Oxford University Press 1997

Grasshopper

March 16 Palm Sunday/Fig Sunday/Flowering Sunday
On the Sunday before Easter Sunday, churchgoers carry palms (or other native greens) into the church with them to be blessed. In England, the usual greens were willow, hazel, box, or yew. The greens were blessed and then taken home to be placed, one in each room, for protection. They are often made into crosses. The service for this day includes a reading of the Passion Play which is often acted out or with different readers taking the different parts.

This Sunday used to be known as Fig Sunday in England where figs, both uncooked and in puddings and pies were eaten during the midday meal. Children received packets of figs in the morning. Some villages held fig feasts and people gathered from miles around to outdoor gatherings where they ate figs and toasted each other in ale or cider.

In Wales, this is called Sul y Blodau or Flowering Sunday. Families used to clean off graves and decorate them with spring glowers and evergreens. In 1896, in Cardiff, an onlooker described how "thousands wend their way to the Cemetery, the roads thereto presenting an appearance like unto a fair." In other parts of the world, this custom takes place on the Saturday before Easter.

In Mexico, a young unmarried couple from each barrio takes picturesquely decorated crosses to church. They are made of corn and brown sugar, cornmeal wrapped in corn husks and painted with dyes. Pinole balls are fastened to the arms and fiber bags and napkins used for wrapping rotillas hang from the arms. The boy carries the cross and the girl a pole about two yards long on which every kind of fruit is hung, sometimes also a watermelon. The couple with the best decorated cross and heaviest load of fruit wins.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978
Toor, Frances, A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, Crown 1947

Palm Sunday

March 17 St Patrick’s Day
Patrick was born between the Clyde and the Severn, a child of the Romano-British empire. His father was a Roman civil servant, his grandfather a priest. He was carried off by raiders to serve as a slave to Ireland where he was put to work as a herdsman. After escaping six years later, he studied for the priesthood and was called to Ireland to preach the gospel of Christ. He earned his reputation as a man of power by confronting the pagan magic of Ireland with his Christian magic, kindling the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane and silencing the Druids in debates. Near the end of his life, he made a forty day retreat on the top of Croagh Patrick. [Attwater]

The story of his dispelling the snakes from Ireland illustrates this shift in power, since the snakes probably represented the old oracle cults tended by snake priestesses. It is interesting that the snake handlers of Italy gather snakes on March 19th, when the snakes first wake from their winter lethargy and emerge. [Field] Helen Farias pointed out that Patrick acquired many of the qualities of Lugh, the ancient Celtic god of light, particularly his association with high places.

In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, his feast is considered the first day of Spring. In the Hebrides they expect a south wind this morning bringing him to his parishioners and a north wind in the evening to take him back to Ireland.

On the high day of Patrick,
every fold will have a cow-calf
and every pool a salmon. [Kightly]

In Ireland, St Patrick's Day used to be a Church holiday. No pubs were open and everyone went to church, then ate a traditional meal of colcannon and Irish soda bread. [Breathnach] But now, although it is a holiday when schools and businesses close, the pubs stay open. According to one of my readers, Suzanne who lives in Dublin, "they are usually full by 3pm, with Guinness and craic agus ceol (great fun and music) flowing!" Dublin also hosts a three-day long festival with a parade with massive floats depicting swans and the Children of Lir and people dressed as monsters, witches, saints and sinners. Suzanne also writes "the traditional meal of colcannon & soda bread is usually replaced by traditional fish 'n' chips from the chipper!"

In America, St. Patrick's Day is usually celebrated with conspicuous consumption of alcohol. The Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle sponsors a prayer service for peace in Ireland every year on St Patrick's day which seems like the start of a new and useful tradition.

Sweet pea seeds sown before sunrise on St. Patrick's Day will produce unusually large and fragrant flowers.

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin 1965
Breathnach, Sarah Ban,
Mrs Sharp's Traditions, Simon & Schuster 1990
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Farias, Helen,
Calendar Notes for The Beltane Papers, Samhain 92.
Martin, Laurie C.,
Garden Flower Folklore, The Globe Pequot Press 1987

March 17 Liberalia
This Roman festival honored Ariadne (Libera) and Dionysus (Liber). Romans ate special honey cakes and put ivy on their statues. Liber and Libera were worshipped in Italy for a long time and were eventually merged in Rome with the worship of Bacchus.

This was the date when boys aged 17 set aside their purple-bordered childhood togas and donned the unbleached woolen toga virilis or toga libera, which represented their coming of age. The bullae, penis-shaped charms that protected them in youth, were taken off and offered to the household gods. Then their fathers took the new men to the Forum and presented them at the shrine as citizens and responsible adults. Old women called Sacerdotes Liberi — priestesses of Liber and Libera — tended foculi, portable altars along the streets and for a small fee would sacrifice oily honey cakes called liba.

Carol Field describes the fritters of flour, cheese, eggs, sliced apples and grated lemon rind which were offered to Bacchus and Silenus, the old gods of wine, on Liberalia. The women who cooked them in impromptu frying shops wore ivy in their hair.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

March 17 Gaia
The Greeks honored the Earth Mother on the 10th day of the lunar month, Elaphabolion

St Patrick
St. Patrick

March 18 Sheela’s Day
The day after St Patrick's Day was called this in rural Ireland, perhaps a way of balancing the honoring of the masculine principle of power (and light) with the feminine principle. One sarcastic observer wrote at the turn of the century that the revellers "are not so anxious to determine who 'Sheelah' was as they are earnest in her celebration." They toast her in whiskey while wearing the previous day's shamrock, which they take off at the end of the day and plunge into their drink. This seems to reflect the period of license and revelry that follows any serious repression. Notice that in Ireland, the repression is associated with the masculine and the revelry with the feminine. Some say Sheelah is a relative of St Patrick but others point to the Sheela-na-Gigs, the grinning images of the goddess with her open vulva, found on stone carvings throughout Ireland.

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

March 19 Quinquatrus
In Rome this was the beginning of a five-day festival honoring Minerva, goddess of arts and crafts, probably because her temple was dedicated on this day.

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

Sheela-na-gig

Sheela-na-gig

March 19 St Joseph

This is a lucky day to be born in the Highlands, where they say children born today cannot be killed in battle. A clear day means a fine and fertile year. [Kightly]

Carol Field points out the close association between the feast day of San Giuseppe and Spring Equinox and, indeed, the elaborate ritual foods and table decorations, signal that we are in the presence of a great seasonal holiday. St Joseph is especially revered in Sicily, where scholar Sereni says “Christ is more important than God, Maria is more important than Christ, and San Giuseppe, universal father, more important than all three together.” Waverley Root says that St Joseph’s holiday replaced an earlier festival in honor of Demeter and that would certainly make a lot more sense out of the customs with which this holiday is celebrated.

A room of the family house or a part of the garage is transformed in the days before the feast with branches of green myrtle and glossy bay leaves, decked with oranges and lemons and golden breads in all sorts of fanciful shapes: moons and stars, jasmine flowers, pods bursting with fava beans, roses and fish and bunches of grapes, roosters (to let the world know of the birth of Christ), sheaves of wheat (for abundance), hazelnuts, bouquets, wreaths of flowers, birds making love and angels sounding trumpets. There are three big breads, one for San Giuseppe shaped like his staff which burst into bloom when he was chosen to be Mary’s husband. One for Mary in the shape of a date palm, because it was said that when she went into Egypt all the date palms blossomed with fruit. And one for Jesus in the shape of a wreath with an interior in the shape of a star, for he represents the light of truth.

A great altar is constructed and these special great breads are placed on the first tier: Mary's on the right, Joseph's on the left and Jesus' in the middle. The second level is decorated with flowers, crystal pitchers of wine and panini. The third level holds the cup for the Host completely decorated in bread and on the very top a picture of the Holy Family. Several large glass bowls full of goldfish sit on a throw rug before the altar, and before them are the Madonna's slippers, rendered in bread.

Three children chosen to play the parts of Mary, Jesus and Joseph are invited to eat all they can from the great feast which has been prepared. The women always aim to make 100 dishes, and many of them are sweet since St Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs and fry cooks. Popular desserts include bigne (deep-fried pastry puffs, sometimes filled with cream), zeppole di San Giuseppe and friscieu, a fritter of apples currants and sultana raisins, served in La Spezia.

In Salemi, the first dish is always three orange sections sprinkled with sugar, and the last is always pasta con la mollica, spaghetti sauted with garlic, a pinch of sugar, cinnamon and bread crumbs. Each dish comes in three pieces, for each member of the Holy Family. In some places, the rule is that each vegetable and fish must be prepared three different ways.

One of the traditional dishes is a stew, maccu di San Giuseppe, which is meant to use up everything left in the pantry before the first crop of new vegetables arrives. Carol Field's recipe includes five kinds of legumes, along with chestnuts, tomatoes, onions, celery, olive oil, dill, fennel and borage, herbs of the season. In Abruzzo, a similar soup is made on May Day, while in Gubbio, it is made on New Year's Eve. Field describes a St Joseph's feast in San Francisco where all the guests were expected to take home a bit of bread, an orange and a single fava bean (for with one such bean you will never be broke).

In New Orleans, Luisah Teish calls this festival Joe Worker's Day (although there is also another holiday called St Joseph the Worker which falls on May 1). In her neighborhood, people would make a big feast, and invite neighbors and orphans. A statue of St. Joseph stood in the center of the table and people left offerings of money at his feet. It was customary to give away bread, lucky beans and bay leaves. The feasting stopped promptly at midnight and the austerity of Lent returned.

In Valencia, bonfires burn all night, culminating at midnight in the burning of fallas, effigies filled with explosives and paraded through the streets earlier in the day. Supposedly this derived from the custom of the carpenters sweeping all the bits of sawdust and trimming out of their shops on this day.

If you’re trying to sell your house, the tradition of burying a statue of St Joseph head down in the front yard is sure to bring you a seller, at least that's a tradition from the Chicano culture of Los Angeles. You must dig the statue back up and make offerings to St Joseph once he provides the seller.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Root, Waverley,
The Food of Italy, Vintage
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Teish, Luisah,
Carnival of the Spirit, Harper San Francisco 1994

St Joseph

March 19 Spring Equinox

March 19 Nawruz/Norooz
The Persians call the Spring Equinox Nawruz or Norooz which means New Day. The Nourooz greeting is “Har Roozat Nourooz Va Nouroozat Pirouz” which means “May your every day be the new day and each new day be a successful one.”

According to Anneli Rufus, the festival is preceded, like Easter and Passover, with a thorough house-cleaning. The evening before, Iranians serve an omelet heavy with spinach, dill and parsley and also munch on bowls of ajeel-e moshgel goshah, “unraveller of difficulties,” a mixture of pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, peaches and raisins. Note that most of these are seeds as befits a spring feast.

The evening meal on the day of Nawruz, is a grand feast, on the scale of Passover and Easter, and both the decoration of the table and the sorts of food served have symbolic significance. I've been celebrating Nawruz for years, using a set of directions from a source now lost to me. I set my table with a leaf floating in a bowl of water, a mirror, yogurt, colored eggs, sweets, a holy book, rose water and a candle for every child in the house.

Rufus' directions for decorating the table are similar but slightly different and equally intriguing: Gnarled branches which represent the twisting path of life. An orange floating in a bowl of water, to represent the world floating in space-time. A goldfish swimming in a bowl (also featured in feasts honoring St Joseph on March 19 and Maimuna, the day following the eight days of Passover). Plus tinted eggs, milk, rose water, candies, fruit, incense, narcissi, pastries, candles, coins and a mirror for every member of the household.

Whatever the decorations, the menu always consists of seven items that begin with the letter S. Rufus provides a list of the haft-sin, the Zoroastrian seven S's: apples (sib), hyacinth (sonbol), garlic (seer), sumac (somagh), jujube fruit (senjed), sprouted seeds (sabzeh) and a wheat germ dish called samanon.

However, if these foods are not readily available in your area, you might consider doing what I have done for years, since I didn't know the Persian names of the dishes until recently. We eat seven foods that begin with S in English. Our usual menu includes smoked salmon, spinach salad with sunflower seeds and sprouts, spaghetti sauce, served over spaghetti squash, and strawberries and shortbread for dessert, and a glass of syrah to sip.

Like most New Year's meals, the food eaten at the Nawruz dinner has symbolic importance. The theme is the green of spring and most dishes feature either vegetables or the color green. One exception is a dish of mahi safid dudi, smoked white fish. Another dish usually found on the Nawruz table is kuku, a souffle-like vegetable and herb pie, in which the eggs represent fertility and happiness. Bread is dipped into a special yogurt and spinach dip: the white is for purity, the green for spring. Recipes for these two dishes can be found at the link below. Other traditional dishes include sabzi polow, basmati rice with seven vegetables, and panir va sabzi, a salad of fresh raw vegetables, basil, tarragon, scallions, red radishes, and mint with feta cheese.

In the twelve days that follow Nawruz, Persians visit friends and families, share meals and give gifts. The holiday season ends with a picnic on the Thirteenth Outside (celebrated this year on April 21).

http://www.payvand.com/ny/4shanbeh.html
http://www.payvand.com/ny/massoume.html
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

March 19 Sun enters Aries
The astrological start of the year. Another chance to start the year over again.

March 19 Babylonian New Year
When Hammurabi declared Marduk, the Warrior-King deity, represented by the star Jupiter, the patron deity of Babylon, the spring equinox, which was known as Marduk's Saints Day, was designated as the start of a new year. It was celebrated with Sacred Marriage rites, in which the King made love to the goddess Ishtar, or the priestess representing her, to bring fertility to the land.

Dreyer, Ronnie Gale, Venus: The Evolution of the Goddess and Her Planet, Aquarian 1994

March 19 Job's Wednesday
The Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Job's Wednesday and is the traditional start of summer in Lebanon. Women never clean their houses on this day because that would attract ants. Instead everyone goes to the beach with a picnic; this is usually the first day people swim in the ocean. On the way home, they might stop and buy the delicious sherbet known as "frisco," made from lemon juice and a little orange juice.

Mouzawak, Kamal, "Delicious Frisco Plus Nice Weather," www.slowfood.com

Persian Spring

March 20 Maundy Thursday/Green Thursday
This year, the Christian commemoration of the Last Supper takes place on the same day as Passover, which is the holiday Jesus and his disciples were celebrating with a Seder.

This is the start of the Tenebrae (darkness), the last three days of Holy Week. Special services take place in the evenings when the candles on the altar are extinguished one by one at the end of each psalm and the famous Miserere was sung.

Beginning in the thirteenth, on this day the kings were expected to wash the feet of the poor. In mid-nineteenth century Rome, the nobility washed the feet of poor pilgrims who came to Rome for this purpose. In many places, the foot-washing ceremonies were replaced with gifts of food and money. The English Queen now gives out small coins specially minted for this occasion.

German Catholics eat spring greens for the first time today. In Saxony, they say if you don't eat greens today, you'll become an ass. This would be a good day to make a salad of out of the first greens of spring: wild herbs, the pale leaves of dandelions, watercress, wild thyme, etc. Add spinach and lettuce if the greens are too bitter.

In Trapani, in Italy, people visit the churches to see the lavureddi, sepulchers of green. Tiered altars are set up, covered with linen, and on them are placed pots of wheat and lentils, grown in darkness and taken to the church 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

March 20 The Fast of Esther
The day of fasting before Purim, commemorating the terror of the Jews of ancient Persia who were going to be slaughtered by the King the following day, until Esther and Mordecai foiled his plot.

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

March 21 Full Moon
Nancy Brady Cunningham calls the full moon of March the Spring Waters Moon and suggests going outdoors at sunset with a bowl of fresh water, and bathing your face and your hands in the water under the light of the full moon. I've done this and it's a lovely ritual.

Cunningham, Nancy Brady, Feeding the Spirit, Resource Publications, 1988. [I believe this book is out of print, but Cunningham has written several recent books, published by Weiser including Snow Melting in a Silver Bowl: A Book of Active Meditations and I Am A Woman by Rite.]

March 21 Spring Eve
On the eve of March 22nd, Spring Day, Albanian children go out to search for fragrant greens and flowers to decorate doorways. They sing songs to the newly-awakened spring. Mothers twist red and white threads around the throats and wrists of young children, to keep them strong and healthy during the coming year.

One of the three days of this month when it is auspicious to sow sweet peas (see Mar 1 and Mar 17).

Martin, Laurie C. Garden Flower Folklore, The Globe Pequot Press 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

Nettles

March 21 Purim
Jews celebrate the rowdy full moon festival of Purim with bawdy jokes, indulgence, gambling and dressing up in costume, all customs that link it with other springtime festivals of excess like Mardi Gras. Although Purim ostensibly celebrates the overthrow of the wicked tyrant Haman who was murdering the Jews, scholars believe the festival actually has roots in an ancient Persian spring holiday which featured a mock battle (like those often linked with Carnival and Easter).

People bring noise-makers to the evening service, to drown out the name of the tyrant Haman during the re-telling of the story of Esther. Some write his name on bits of paper which they tear up and toss into the air; others have his name written on the soles of their shoes which they stamp on the floor. The Talmud recommends drinking until it is impossible to tell the difference between "Cursed be Haman" and "Blessed be Mordecai."

After the service, everyone eats, hamantaschen, three-cornered cookies filled with poppy seeds or jam, which are said to represent Haman's three-cornered hat. But they also resemble the triangular filled pastries in the shape of a woman's sex used to celebrate the Roman birth goddesses and that would certainly go along with the bawdy flavor of the holiday. Not everyone eats hamantaschen at Purim. German Jews eat gingerbread men. Egyptians eat ozne Haman, deep-fried sweets shaped like Haman's ears.

This festival is also called The Festival of Lotteries, because of the lots cast by Haman to choose the day to destroy the Jews. But playing games of chance is a feature of other festivals of reversal like Saturnalia and Twelfth Night and other festivals of reversal. At Purim, sometimes a Purim-rabbi is elected to give a mock sermon.

In traditional Jewish towns, teams of Purimshpielers tour the streets, juggling and singing, dancing and acting, wearing costumes and presenting plays on Jewish history. In Tel Aviv, there is a parade and carnival including a beauty contest to choose Queen Esther from among the women.

The traditional Purim dinner includes kreplach and peas, particularly chickpeas, a huge challah, and, ever since the turkey was brought to Europe from North America around 1524, turkey. Some say the turkey is served in remembrance of Ahasuerus, who was a foolish king, but it may have more to do with the scope of his kingdom, for he ruled from Ethiopia to India, and the turkey was known in Hebrew as "the Indian cock."

Nathan, Joan, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, Schocken Books 1988
Waskow, Arthur,
Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

March 21 Good Friday
In Sicily, as Easter approaches, women sow wheat, lentils and canary seed in plates which they keep in the dark and water every two days. The plants shoot up, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the plates containing them are placed on graves on Good Friday. This custom undoubtedly derives from the ancient practice of making Gardens of Adonis in honor of the dead lover of Astarte/Aphrodite/Venus. Greek women filled baskets or pots with earth and planted wheat, barley, lettuce, fennel and other quick-growing plants. The plants lived their entire life cycle in eight days and were then thrown into the sea, similar to the custom of throwing the sabzeh into a river (on the Thirteenth Outside).

Plant potatoes on Good Friday, as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Swabians claim that if you eat lentils on Good Friday, you will surely come into money during the rest of the year.

In many churches, the Passion of Christ is acted out on this day (in other places, this drama occurs on Palm Sunday). The Christianized Txetales Indians of Chiapas will not work on this day because all of nature is converted into the body of Christ. If one were to plant something, his body would be wounded every time the planting stick made a hole for the seed. If one were to cut wood, every blow of the ax would cut into his flesh.

During the three hours between noon and three when Christ was hanging on the cross, all is solemn in Catholic countries. It used to be that businesses closed and most people spent that time in church.

In Spain and in Italy, the emphasis on the sorrow of the day is mostly attached to Mary, probably dating back to an earlier time when this was a festival honoring the goddess' sorrow over the loss of her lover (see the Attis festivals of late March) or Demeter's grief at the loss of her daughter, Kore, who rises again like the corn in spring.

Bread baked on this day has curative powers. Since the eighteenth century, hot cross buns (which are much older in origin) have been associated with this day. They are also considered restorative.

The Pennyslvania Dutch believe rain on Good Friday means seven rainy Sundays will follow, as well as high winds and a poor hay crop that summer.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Field, Carol, C
elebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937
Yoder, Don,
Groundhog's Day

March 22 Soul Saturday/Holy Saturday/White Saturday/Judas Day
This day when Christ was in the tomb is a traditional day for visiting cemeteries to clean off the gravestones.

In Mexico, it is called Judas Day and he is hanged and burned in effigy. In Greece, the priest and congregation make loud noises during the Mass to drive away demons. The Czechs on White Saturday rattle keys and burn out Judas by burning the last of the holy oil in front of the church door.

Patricia Storace says that for the Greeks Lent is a time of closer contact with the dead. The fasting is like death for the living, "making them clairvoyant and narrowing the boundaries between them and the dead." This feeling culminates in Soul Saturday when women go to the cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves, setting out kollyva, the food of the dead on silver trays. Vendors sell flowers, candles and kollyva to be placed on the graves. The Greeks believe that on Holy Thursday the souls of the dead emerge from the Underworld and live in the spring flowers until the Saturday before Pentecost (fifty days from Easter).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Storace, Patricia,
Dinner with Persephone, Pantheon 1996

Nettles

March 22 Attis
Attis was the lover and grandson of Cybele, the Attic goddess who was known as mother of mountains and depicted flanked by lions. When Attis betrayed her, she hunted him down and drove him insane. He tore off his genitals because they had caused him to betray her.

Originally a Phyrgian goddess, Cybele's worship was imported to Rome, where she was called Magna Mater (Great Mother). Emperor Claudius popularized the Phyrgian tradition of bringing a young pine tree representing Attis into the city like a corpse, swathed in linen and woolen sashes and decked with violets. Members of the Tree Bearer's Guild (dendrophori) carried it through the city gate and into Cybele's sanctuary which stood on Vatican Hill, near where St Peter's stands now.

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

March 22 Chronus
On the 15th day of the lunar month of Elaphebolion, Greeks presented an obley cake, made with a decoration of 12 knobs, to the God of Time, Cronus. This cake sounds similar to the cakes used to celebrate Matronalia (March 1) and Mothering Sunday.

March 23 Tubilustrum
The last day of the Quinquatrus (see March 19). Also the day the straight trumpets (tubae) used in ceremonies were purified.

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

Cybele

Cybele

March 23 Easter Sunday
This Christian holiday is named after a pagan goddess of spring (Eostre) and takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (making it the only Christian holiday with lunar connections). It was named Easter in the 8th century. Before that it was known by the same name as Passover, Pesach.

Catholic churches celebrate with rituals of water and fire. The Easter vigil service, the night preceding Easter Sunday, begins with the Service of Light. The priest, standing outside the church strikes a flint, creating a new fire, which is then blessed, with these words "Sanctify this new fire which was struck from flint and is destined for our use. Grant that we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires through this paschal feast that we may come to the feast of eternal light with pure minds."

The newly lit fire is sprinkled with holy water and blessed with the smoke of incense. The priest then carves the following symbols on the side of the Paschal candle: the four numbers representing the current year (placed in the four quarters of a cross) with the Greek symbols Alpha and Omega above and below. Grains of incense are placed in the candle in the carved cross. The Paschal Candle is lit from the new fire and carried into the church where it is used to light the candles of the congregation. As the light is passed along, from candle to candle, people say to each other, "Christ has risen." "He is truly risen." The music is joyous and the church is filled with flowers and soon the whole church is ablaze with light.

I especially like this prayer from this part of the service:

We pray you, therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated in honor of your name, may continue endlessly to scatter the darkness of this night. May it be received as a sweet fragrance and mingle with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find its flame still burning…

The first reading tells of the Creation of the World, repeating the theme that the world begins on this day. It is truly the new year. This is also the day on which new initiates are baptized, usually wearing robes of white to symbolize their new identity.

The Easter feast is an important symbolic meal, like the Passover Seder or the Nawruz dinner on Spring Equinox. In Italy, the table is often decorated with an Easter lamb made out of almond paste. Roast lamb is often the main course, but bread and eggs are also served because of their ritual significance. Grain is a symbol of fertility and abundance; eggs represent new life and beginnings. The special Easter breads of many countries, like the Italian panettones, English hot cross buns, Russian kulich or the Greek tsoureki, represent resurrection, according to Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan St Bakery in New York City, interviewed by Sara Neumeier. "There is a whole metaphor in Christian tradition about bread symbolizing Easter, because you are taking the inert flour and bringing it back to life." The Greek tsoureki is a braided loaf with red eggs nestled into the plaits of the dough. The eggs are supposedly dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, but in earlier times, eggs were dyed red as offerings to Astarte and red eggs are still thrown into streams the day after Easter in Russia as offerings to the spirits. Another popular Easter bread, made in Florence, is the colombine, made in the shape of a dove and decorated with red eggs. In Venice, fiances give each other focaccia shaped like a dove with an egg in the heart.

Daily Missal of the Mystical Body, edited by the Maryknoll Fathers, P J Kenedy & Sons, New York 1961
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, Willim Morrow 1990
Neumeier, Sara, "Easter Breads,"
Living, April 1999

March 23 Day of Blood
On the second day of the festival of Attis, priests of Attis danced and gashed themselves with knives, joining Cybele in her sorrow over her dead lover. Worshippers spent the entire day in mourning, wailing, keening, clashing cymbals, playing flutes. That night was spent holding a vigil over a mock tomb. Then in the morning, the priest opened the tomb to reveal that it is empty.

Another source says that this day was sometimes called Black Friday, further enhancing the parallels with the myth of Christ, whose death is mourned on Good Friday (which the Albanians call Black Friday). This means the date of the festival of Attis would have fluctuated from year to year, just like Easter.

March 24 Hilaria
On the morning of the third day of the festival of Attis, the priest opens the tomb to reveal that the god is not within. Attis has not died after all. The worshippers cheer as the priest announces, “Be of good cheer, neophytes, seeing that the god is saved; for we also, after our toils, shall find salvation!” A general celebration followed, with feasting and merriment

March 24 St Gabriel
The archangel who announced to Mary that she was to bear the Christ Child, is the patron saint of postmen and other messengers. He is also invoked by those who hope to receive good news.
Check out this web site

March 24 Easter Lifting
On Easter Monday morning, in England, particularly in the Northwest and along the Welsh border, young men roved around in a group, carrying a stout chair decorated with greens, flowers and ribbons in which they placed each woman of the house and lifted her three times in the air. They then claimed a kiss and a small gift of money. On Tuesday, women went around with the chair and lifted the men. The lifting ended promptly at noon on both days. In Shropshire and Herefordshire, the feet of the person being lifted were sprinkled with water from a wet bunch of flowers, recalling the watery sprinkling of the Easter Service (see Mar 31) and the New Year festivals of Thailand and Sri Lanka (Apr 13 & 16).

In some places the observance was rowdier. Both men and women were hoisted into the air and kissed by roving gangs. Sometimes a rope was stretched across the road and those who were halted by the obstacle were then placed in a chair and lifted. Hole suggests that lifting was the remnant of an older agricultural and magical custom, perhaps a rite of fertility designed to foster the growth of the crops.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978

March 24 Ducking Monday
The Monday after Easter is a holiday and is associated with water in many places, perhaps as a symbol of new life, like the watery games of the New Years in Thailand, and Sri Lanka (see Apr 13 & 16). In Poland, boys splash the girls with water. Nelson always takes the day off to take her kids to water. Usually they go to a nearby marsh for birding, but splashing is a part of the ceremony.

In Italy, this day is called La Pasquetta, Little Easter. Everyone goes on a picnic, meant to last all afternoon (like the Thirteenth Outside [took out date]). They take along an antipasto of a hard-boiled egg and salt and local bitter herbs like aurugula or radicchio or fennel.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Nelson, Gertrud Mueller, To Dance with God, Paulist Press

March 24 Dyngus Day/Smigus Day
The Poles celebrate the Monday after Easter under the name of Dyngus Day. The customs are familiar: boys splash girls with water on Monday; and also strike at them with pussywillow wands (both sounds like remnants of fertility rituals). In earlier times, the girls had to wait for a chance to get revenge until Thursday when they threw crockery at the boys. However, now it is more common for them to fight back with water on Monday.

Thanks to Pam for alerting me to this holiday!
http://www.polamjournal.com/polka/dyngus.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Monday

March 24 Feast of the Blajini
In Rumania on the Monday following Easter, women throw red Easter eggs into running streams for the benefit of the Blajini, the lost race of spirits which live on the bank of the river fed by all the streams in the world. They live so far away, they don't know what's happening in our world, so this is how they know that spring has come.

In Eastern Europe, the period between Easter and Pentecost, is a time when the dead seek out humans and make connections with them. This is also a time when they can bring illness. Perhaps this ritual propitiates them. [Purkiss]

Purkiss, Diane, At the Bottom of the Garden
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

Attis

Attis

March 25 Lady Day
The first day of the year from the twelfth century to 1752, this holiday celebrates the Annunciation when the archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant. It seems appropriate to acknowledge the sacred dimension of giving birth at this time of the year when Kore is emerging from underground, animals are bearing young and plants are producing flowers.

It's also the fixed date for Spring Equinox, thus Gabriel's announcement is about the arrival of spring, as expressed in this weather rhyme:

Saint Gabriel to Mary flies:
This is the end of snow and ice.

March 25 Schwalbentag, Day of Swallows
In South Germany and Austria this is the day the swallows return.

When Gabriel does the message bring
Return the swallows, come the spring.

Yoder, Don, Groundhog's Day, Stackpole Press

March 26 Birthday of Kwan Yin
On the 19th day of the second lunar month, the Chinese celebrate the birthday of the Goddess of Compassion, Guanyin.

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

March 28 Bright Friday/Mary, the Life-Giving Fountain
The Friday after Easter is known as Bright Friday in the Eastern Orthodox Church and is the feast day of Mary, in her aspect as Life-Giving Fountain, the Spring from which comes new life. She is shown in icons holding the Christ Child and sitting in a well or fountain. [I have a jpg file of this icon]

According to legend, a young man named Markellis, who was later to become Emperor Leo of the Byzantine Empire, was searching for water for a dying man when he heard the voice of the Virgin calling to him from a spring-fed well. A shrine was built on the site and later, when Emperor Justinian was cured of a strange illness at this shrine, he built a church called "The Life-Giving Spring." Pilgrims still visit this church which is outside Istanbul.

I like this prayer written for the feast day by a monk, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos:

Now dost thou gush forth grace for me, O Virgin Theotokos of the Spring, therby granting me eloquence that I may praise they Spring, which poureth forth life and grace of the faithful…

For Eastern Orthodox Catholics, this is a traditional day for blessing gardens.

Kimball, Virginia, "What is the Feast of the Theotokos, Life-Giving Fountain?" www.dayton.edu/mary/questions
Storace, Patricia, Dinner with Persephone, Pantheon 1996

March 29 The Borrowed Days

March borrowed from April
Three days and they were ill
The first was snow and sleet
The next was cold and wet
The third was such a freeze
The birds's nests stuck to trees

It was the Romans who gave these days a bad reputation. They believed they were dangerous days, fraught with taboos and the specter of bad weather.

March 30 Low Sunday
The Sunday after Easter. I assume it is so called because it's a bit of a letdown after the exhilaration of Easter.

March 31 Hocktide/Binding Monday
Similar to the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, the Monday and Tuesday after Low Sunday were celebrated in England for many years with rowdy games, and sports. Sometimes they were known as Binding Monday and Tuesday because the women went out, caught men, bound them with ropes and only released them when they paid a forfeit (a kiss or a sum of money). The following day the men retaliated. This order was reversed in some places.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978

March 31 Worship of the Moon
The Romans worshipped the Moon in her temple on the Aventine Hill on the evening preceding the festival of Venus Verticordia (see Apr 1). A late Roman poem about this festival, the Pervigilium Veneris, contains the famous line bidding all who have never loved and all who have loved to love on the morrow.

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

March 31 Hares and Rabbits
It is lucky to say, “Hares, Hares,” aloud as you go to bed on the last day of the month (any month), and to say “Rabbits, Rabbits,” as soon as you awaken the following morning. This is true for any month, but it seems especially appropriate during this month of the mad hare. And why are hares mad in March? Because this is when hares breed, and apparently leaping, cavorting, dancing and frolicking are part of their mating ritual.


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