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Berger’s Burg: March has more than its share of holidays

March is the third month of the year and stretches over a full 31 days.

At one time, it was actually the first month of the Roman calendar, until January and February pushed it back. Spring began during this month which was the time when the fighting Romans prepared to go off to war. So, naturally,, they named the month Martius, in honor of Mars, their god of war.

Until a little more than two hundred years ago, March 25 was also New Year’s Day in England and America. Then the new calendar was adopted and January became the first month of the year. People living in “Auld England called March Lencten-monath, meaning “Lengthening Month,” because, following the first day of spring (March 20 or 21), the days would get longer.

We, living in the northern half of the world, often say that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” since the weather in early March is often cold and stormy, and by the end of the month is mild and warm.

But, for me, I say that March comes in like a lion and stays that way all month long, what with income tax preparation, spring cleaning, and visits to my four far-flung grandchildren living on the opposite ends of the earth in Princeton, New Jersey, and Rockville, Maryland. Oy, my backside is already hurting in anticipation of the long drives Gloria and I will take to see them. Two oys when I say that a grandfather’s life is not an easy one.

Did you know that in the southern part of the world, their fall begins in March? A brilliant thought just swept over me: Since their March weather would be perfect for football, perhaps I can persuade the Giants and the Ravens to travel to Australia to play a second Super Bowl game there. This would give my Giants another opportunity to win, give me the opportunity to “kvell” when they win, and give Gloria the chance to live with a not-so-grumpy husband. But Gloria kaboshed the idea, concluding that if the Giants would lose again, she would have to live with a double dose of grumpy husband.

There are many interesting ethnic holidays occurring in March. One is “St. David's Day” or the Mark of a Welshman Day, which is celebrated on March 1. It seems that many years ago, in Wales, a fierce battle had been raging for hours between the Welsh and the Saxons (the Germanic people who dwelled in what is now northern Holland). Swords clashed as the men of Wales fought to protect their land from the invaders. But the Welsh were losing.

David, a monk with the Welsh army, thought he knew the reason why. Since both sides wore the same kind of clothing, it was hard to tell a friend from an enemy. So, the monk came up with a good idea. As the Welsh warriors began to retreat, he called them together. “Welshmen!” he cried, “You must mark yourselves so that you can quickly tell who is a Welshman and who is a Saxon.”

The monk reached down and pulled a leek plant from the ground. “Let each Welshman wear a leek. Then you will know that any man not wearing a leek is an enemy.”

Soon all the Welsh soldiers were wearing leeks. Fortified with courage and determination, the leek-adorned soldiers charged the enemy. Before long the Welsh carried the day and won the battle. They had kept their country free.

After David’s death, the Catholic Church made him a saint, and he became the patron saint of Wales. And to this very day, the date of his death, March 1, became St. David’s Day.

No one knows if the story of David and the leek is true. But the leek has become the national flower of Wales and St. David’s Day a national holiday. On this day, Welsh people all over the world proudly wear the stalk, flower, or a bit of leaf from a leek plant.

Gee, Gloria, why do I have a hankering for some piping hot leek soup?

On March 3, Japan celebrates “Hina Matsuri” ( Festival of the Dolls), a day reserved for girls and dolls. In this land of many beautiful matsuri (festivals), the favorite one for girls is the Hina Matsuri. Families with daughters place a special set of dolls on display. These dolls are not to play with. They are very valuable, and are handed down from mother to daughter.

The dolls are always arranged in an unique way. Usually the mother does the arranging for her daughter(s). A series of shelves, looking much like steps, are set up. The stand is then covered with red cloth. On the top shelf, in the place of honor, are the emperor and empress. Below them are members of the royal court.

First, there are three ladies-in-waiting. Then there are five musicians, two officials, and finally, three guardsmen. Placed among the dolls are tiny pieces of furniture, musical instruments, and decorated boxes. There are also fresh peach blossoms and food offerings such as cake and candy in the shape of fruit, and even a tiny, horse-drawn, carriage to enhance the scene. When the festival is over, everything is carefully packed away by the mother until the next year.

Personally, I think there should also be a festival for young boys who may feel left out. Perhaps if the fathers displayed items such as a football, a shaving razor, and a picture of Jennifer Lopez, the impressionable young boys would know their roles in life. Gloria thinks this would be a bad idea. What do you think?

Then there is the Australian Moomba Festival, which falls on March 2 this year. Moomba means, “Get together and have fun,” and that is exactly what the people of Melbourne do at this yearly celebration. The name originated from the language of the Aborigines, who were the first people to live in Australia. The festival lasts for 11 days, and there is something for everyone.

Among the many events are water shows and boat races on the Yarra River, which flows through the city. Also, at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, children’s teams play many different sports such as cricket (a favorite sport in Australia), soccer, rugby, and American football. And children perform in plays at an outdoor theater.

The busy festival ends with a big parade on their Labor Day, the second Monday in March. Bagpiper bands play lively marches and there are gaily decorated floats. The Moomba King and Queen lead the parade with clowns all around them. The people of Melbourne really take the spirit of Moomba to heart.

I’ll have more March festivals to talk about in next week’s column.

Reach Times-Ledger Columnist, Alex Berger at 718-229-0300, Ext. 139, or abergere3@nyc.rr.com

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