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March Madness:3 Surprising origins of Traditions

Ides of March

The Latin root of “ides” means “to divide,” so ides basically just denotes the middle of the month. The Roman calendar designates the 15th as the ides of March, May, July and October, and the 13th day is the ides for all other months.

At the time the Roman calendar was created, the phases of the moon determined the dates, and the full moon usually fell on either the 13th or 15th day of the month, which was referred to as the ides. March was the first month in the Roman calendar, so the Ides of March marked the first full moon of the year.

Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;”

According to Plutarch, who was a Roman historian and writer, a seer told Julius Caesar that he would be harmed no later than the Ides of March (thus the phrase “Beware the Ides of March”). On his way to the Theatre of Pompey, Caesar met the seer and joked, “The ides of March have come”, meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone (yet).” Caesar was assassinated at the theatre. Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled.

Caesar had demanded to be worshipped as a god. Those who did not worship him were put to death. There is one coming who will confirm the covenant with many to bring about a false peace, and then later will demand to be worshipped as God. He will be guided by Satan and will use sorcery, as will his false prophet, to deceive those on earth. But they will receive the same judgment from God as did Caesar. God tells us in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

I knew that Caesar was killed by Brutus and Cassius on the fifteenth, or the Ides of March, but I assumed that there was more to it than that. The Roman months were broken up into three parts. The Kalends was the first day of the month, the Nones was thought to be the date of the half moon and the Ides is thought to be the day of the full moon or the “half division” of the month. In 44 BCE, the year of the death of Julius Caesar, the half division fell on March 15, which has been chronicled by historians. This significance would have died out long ago, had it not been for a play by William Shakespeare in which the soothsayer character utters the line “Beware the Ides of March.” It is amazing to think that because of powerful prose, we still think about this event over 2,000 years later.

Mardi Gras

I know enough French to understand that Mardi Gras means “fat Tuesday,” and that it is tied to the beginning of Lent, but who started the whole thing about parties and parades? It turns out that Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. When the Christian church was established, rather than doing away with traditional pagan rituals, they folded them into their own rites. Thus, Mardi Gras came to be the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting and reflection. In the days before Lent, households would traditionally eat up all of the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese in the house and prepare themselves for the period where they would eat only fish or fast. The term “Carnival” comes from the ancient word “carnelevarium”—to remove or take away meat. Today, Louisiana is the only US state where Mardi Gras is a legal holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day

Who was this guy and why do we dress in green to celebrate him? St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to the emerald isle. St. Patrick’s day is observed on March 17 to commemorate his death in 461 CE and it always falls on Lent (see Mardi Gras above). The Irish tradition has been to attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon and evening. Lenten prohibitions against eating meat were waved and Irish families feasted on bacon and cabbage. St. Patrick was known to use the shamrock in his teaching, so the Irish began to wear shamrocks and then later dressed in green to celebrate. This legend and tradition spread to America after the Irish potato famine drove many Irish to emigrate. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York and not in Ireland. The next time you celebrate St Patrick’s Day by donning green, think of the Christian missionary who died more than 1,500 years ago.

 

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