HISTORY OF THE SPRING
In Colorado we have a saying, we begin the first day of Spring in the same way we began the Fall: with snow. This symmetry is relevant as both the beginning of Spring and Fall coincide with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.
This year, the vernal equinox (Spring) occurs on March 20 at 9:58 pm UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, or Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Autumnal Equinox occurs 6 months later. Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere as the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox.
HISTORY OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Although much of the life of the patron saint and Apostle of Ireland is shrouded in legend, St. Patrick was probably born around the year AD 389. Stories are told of the many contests Patrick had with Druids, pagans, and polytheists, as well as the well known but unlikely story of him driving the snakes from Ireland. More on that later. What we do know about him comes from his memoir, Confessio, which he wrote near the end of his life. It begins,
“I, Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, who was of the village of Bannavem Taberniea.”
HISTORY OF THE IDES OF MARCH
According to the ancient Roman calendar, the ides fell on the 13th of the month with the exception of the months March, May, July, and October, when it fell on the 15th of the month. Something epochal occurred in 44 B.C.
Et tu, Brute?
It was on March 15, 44 B.C. that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated after he had been warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March. Contrary to popular belief, including William Shakespeare, Caesar was not assassinated in the Capitol, meaning the Curia Hostilia or Senate House in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Capitoline Hill (pictured at top).
This holiday is often overlooked by those who do not speak Greek or those who do not speak Geek… but for the science major, this is a special celebration. Though it is an irregular constant number, regularly and annually on March 14, or 3/14, or 3.14 — we have the first three digits of “Pi.” If one wanted to be precise, and why not, it would be at 15:92 o’clock, or 4:32 pm… and 65.35 seconds, or slightly after 4:33 pm. You get the idea.
The origin of this geek holiday has been traced to a celebration led by Larry Shaw at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988 where he was a physicist. No less than the US House of Representatives boldly stepped out and passed a non-binding resolution recognizing March 14 as Pi Day in 2009. Your tax dollars at work.
HISTORY OF THE 40 MARTYRS OF SEBASTE
A curious occurrence happened in the early 4th century Roman Empire. The early church historian Bishop Eusebius tells the story of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who before a battle against his rival Emperor Maxentius in 312 AD at the Milvian Bridge outside of Rome, had either a dream or vision that he was to conquer in the sign of Christ.
Explaining this to his troops, they made a battle standard of the Greek letters chi and rho, the first two letters of Christ in Greek, and were victorious. Constantine converted to Christianity and in 313 AD put into law the Edict of Milan, making Christianity a legitimate religion with toleration toward Christians across the Roman Empire. This ended the Empire-wide Great Persecution of the church under the earlier Emperor Diocletian.
This is where it gets interesting. Constantine’s brother-in-law and co-ruler Emperor Licinius co-authored this edict, but civil war soon erupted between the two. Licinius was Augustus in the East Empire (Balkans), and Constantine was Augustus of the West. Licinius began to persecute Christians in his provinces in 316 AD, perhaps fearing their mutiny to his rival Constantine who favored Christians. Licinius expelled Christians from his palace, interfered with internal church procedures and organization, and ordered the military to sacrifice to the Roman gods. (more…)
It seems like only yesterday that we discussed the end of Daylight Saving Time, or DST, a brilliant campaign to convince people that we’re getting more daylight each day when in reality we’ve simply changed our clocks and then forgotten about it within two weeks. Actually, it was only back in November, or 4 months ago.
Indeed, the new rules for DST that began in 2007 meant an extra four or five weeks of DST each year. There are now a total of 238 days of DST, compared to a total of 210 days of DST back in 2006 under the previous rules. This means the U. S. remains on DST for about 65% of the year. So if you think about it, DST will be in effect for most of the year, Standard time is no longer the standard. It might be more significant to recognize Daylight Losing Time.
In the Western church, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday from the ceremonial use of ashes, as a symbol of penitence, in the service prescribed for the day. It follows Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, and ends 40 days later with Easter. The custom is still retained in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran and some Orthodox Churches. The ashes, obtained by burning the remains of the palm branches blessed on the previous Palm Sunday, are placed in a vessel on the altar and consecrated before High Mass. The priest then invites those present to approach and, dipping his thumb in the ashes, marks them as they kneel with the sign of the cross on the forehead, with the words:
Remember, man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.
HISTORY OF MARDI GRAS
In French, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and is celebrated the day after Shrove Monday and the day before Ash Wednesday as a last “fling” before the 40 days of self-denial of Lent which precede Easter. Lent is a word that comes from the Middle English word “lente” which means “springtime” — so named for the season of the year in which it usually occurs. While the practice of Lent is not mentioned in the Bible, it has been a tradition in the Christian world since the mid 4th century. It seems to parallel the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus experienced following his baptism at the Jordan River.
Historically, Lenten fasting became mandatory, especially the abstinence from eating meat. While recommended by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in his Festal Letter III to his flock in Egypt in 331 AD, by the Middle Ages Lent was enforced throughout Europe, especially the forbidding of meat during the final weeks before Easter.
HISTORY OF SHROVE MONDAY
The Monday before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Monday. The three days before Ash Wednesday is also known as “Shrovetide,” starting with Quinquagesima Sunday and ending on Shrove Tuesday, known more popularly as Mardi Gras. Quinquagesima meant the fiftieth day before Easter, or specifically the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday which marked the beginning of Lent. Shrove is the past tense of shrive and is an Old English word meaning “to repent.” Repentance from sin was a common practice during this season.
The Royal Shrovetide Football Match is typically played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England tracing back to the time of Henry II in the 12th century (think of the play/movie “The Lion in Winter.”)