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Berger’s Burg: There’s more to March than madness

March is the third month of the year. It was named after the Roman god Mars, who was known for his sweet tooth and the candy bar that bears his name. He claimed that candy was good for the eyes, which he needed in order to differentiate between peanut-cluster candies (with dark chocolate) and truffles (with milk chocolate).

Mars was also famous for his fiery temper. He would turn as red as his namesake, the planet Mars, when he ate too much candy. His disposition would turn from hyper to enraged, and then to a ballistic asperity. During those awful moments, Mars would wage a two-front war against his sworn enemies - the nutty Kingdom of Snickers, and the gooey domain of the Milky Way. It was simply appalling. That is why Mars was also known as the GOD OF WAR.

So, provocative March, being the first month of the year in the Roman calendar, and the harbinger of spring, was the time when the Romans prepared to go off to war. They named the month Martius, in honor of the irascible Mars. It's a good thing that Osama bin Laden wasn't around back then or else March might have been called (bin there, done that) Ladenius.

Time marches on. More than 200 years ago, March 25 was New Year's Day in England and America. Then a new calendar was adopted and January became the first month of the year. People living in England called March "Lencten-monath," meaning "Lengthening month." In the northern half of the world, March is cold and stormy during the early part of the month, but, by the end of the month, the weather, contrarily, turns mild and warm. Did you know that in the southern part of the world, March marks the beginning of autumn, not spring?

Under Mars' testy influences, this month contains many celebrations dealing with war-like incidents. In Wales, for instance, March 1 is observed as the day of "The Mark of the Welshman." Many years ago, Wales was fighting an invading army from Saxon and was losing the battle. David, a monk in the Welsh army, noticed that both sides were wearing the same clothing, making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe. So, he wisely suggested that the Welshmen mark themselves by pinning a wild leek plant on their clothing. Soldiers not wearing a leek plant would be enemies. The Welsh, wearing this unique identification, then charged the un-leeked invaders and defeated them. David then became the patron saint of Wales and St. David's Day, the day of his death, became a national and religious holiday and the leek became the national flower of Wales. March 20 ushers in the first day of spring.

On March 21, the Jewish celebration of Purim (the Feast of Lots) will be observed. This holiday recalls how Queen Esther saved the Jews from death. Long ago in Persia (now Iran), there was a wicked man named Haman. He was angered when Queen Esther's cousin, a Jew, refused to bow before him. To get even, Haman plotted to kill all Jews. The day was to be decided by lot. But Queen Esther pleaded with her husband, the king, to intervene and her people were saved.

When the story of Esther is read on Purim, Jews often follow an ancient custom. Every time Haman's name is mentioned, they stamp their feet or rattle a noise-maker to show how they feel about him (just like they do when they hear Howard Stern's name today).

The joy of Purim is shown in other ways. Gifts are given to friends and the needy. And children put on plays that tell the story of Queen Esther. In the evening, family and friends sit down for a happy Purim feast. Among the foods enjoyed are three-cornered pastries called "Hamentashen" or "Haman's hat." Oh, how, Mars would have loved this delicacy.

Also on March 21, Mexico celebrates the birthday of Benito Juarez, one of the greatest leaders in the history of Mexico. In 1861, he was elected president and the following year, France invaded Mexico and captured Mexico City. Juarez had to flee for his life. Traveling about in his black carriage, he continued the fight for his country's freedom. In 1866, France finally left Mexico and Juarez returned to his presidency a hero. There is a gift from the people of Mexico to the people of the United States in Washington D.C. On the base of the statue are these words by Juarez: "Respect for the rights of others is peace."

March 25 is Greek Independence Day. For hundreds of years, Greece was ruled by Turkey. On March 25, 1821, the Greeks took a vow - liberty or death - and issued a declaration of independence. They waged war against their invaders and after eight long years of warfare, won their freedom from Turkey and became an independent nation.

Other patriotic dates come to mind. On March 3, Francis Scott Key's "Star spangled Banner" was adopted. Key wrote the song aboard a ship while witnessing a shelling by the British upon Americans during the War of 1812.

On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks, a former slave, was the first American killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770. On March 4, Casimir Pulaski, the Polish general who fought with the colonists during the American Revolution, was born. On March 6, we remember the Alamo, a Texas fort in San Antonio, which fell to the Mexicans in 1836. And on March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death."

Mars certainly had an effect on the month bearing his name. In his honor, I wish to celebrate this great deity. Gloria, bring me a Mars bar, and please, set up my punching bag. I feel like hitting something this month.

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