March: Spring’s First Child
Έγινε ενημέρωση: 18 Σεπ 2022
By Eleftheria Kollia - The Tiny Storyteller
March is rather complicated, but in my opinion, that’s what makes it special. Here in Greece we hold both appreciation and a sense of caution for the month with the keys to the spring season opening. There are many sayings, customs, traditions and legends surrounding it and each time it begins, things get interesting. In this short dedication, I shall argue on why March has always been the most intriguing month of the year in my eyes.
March is the third annual month in both Julian and Gregorian Calendars. It is the second to have a length of 31 days. In the Northern Hemisphere, which includes North America, Europe, Asia and a part of Africa it is considered to be the opening of spring, while in the Southern Hemisphere which includes South America, Oceania and the rest of Africa, it represents the beginning of autumn.
The common ground between these differences is the fact that around the world March is a month which signals “change” by being an important gateway in the cycle of “birth, death and rebirth” in the natural status. Whether it is recognized as Spring’s first child or Autumn’s first son, March is the annual pioneer of the grand swift of Nature, drawing the line between a warmer or colder season, in which either day or night gradually becomes the ruler of the earthly kingdom.
Being a country of the Northern Hemisphere, here in Greece we experience March as the vernal firstborn. Through a number of customs and sayings we’ve painted a rather colorful picture of the month, by attributing humanizing characteristics to it. For example, March is one of the few months often discussed as having a “personality”.
If we were to imagine a humanized version through these traditions, then March would appear to be a young, hothead, indecisive man with a knack for violence and aggression. He’s called “Planter” (Φυτευτής) because it is conducive for planting, but also “Crying March” (Κλαψομάρτης) because of the unpredictability surrounding it.
A Greek adage says that March has five opinions, bringing snow on earth five times, following a deep regret that it didn’t snow a sixth time (Ο Μάρτης ο πεντάγνωμος πέντε φορές εχιόνισε και πάλι το μετάνιωσε πως δεν εξαναχιόνισε). Another says that March is a friend of summer, while August a friend of winter (από Μαρτιού καλοκαιριά κι από Αυγούστου χειμώνας).
Lastly, the most famous adage describes March as an “extortionist” and a “wicked stake burner” (Μάρτης, γδάρτης και κακός παλουκοκάφτης), which is aimed to be a humorously vivid depiction of the rough weather conditions during its 31 days.
It's All About March
It’s true that March is full of twists and turns when it comes to meteorological trends, signifying even more its symbolic presence as a point of “change”. The weatherworn Greeks are never certain of the temperature during this month, thus they try to be prepared for every possible situation.
It’s always dangerous to start either unexpected storms or long days of a peculiar coexistence between bright sun and cold winds. There is a Greek custom during which all mothers braid little white and red bracelets for their children to “protect” them from the temperamental behavior of March, so that they won’t get burned by the Sun or swept by the Winds.
March has always been linked with grand festivities which, among others, relate to the motive of change through masquerades or culturally central stories. This dates back in antiquity, but is still continued to this day.
In ancient Greece and Rome, March was the celebratory month of mythological gods who symbolized changes. The Greeks held festivals for natural alterations concerning Dionysus, giving birth to the well-known theatrical events of the season, while in ancient Rome many of the preparations for the honorary celebrations of Mars were on the way, marking the beginning of the New Year.
In modern times, March is still a month of vibrant festivities around the idea of big changes. As Christians we celebrate both the pregnancy of Virgin Mary and the start of the fasting period preceding Easter, both being pivotal moments of important change in the biblical narrative of salvation.
But even the non-Christians can enjoy and participate to the final days of the well-known Carnival (Απόκριες) which is the three-week, vernal equivalent of Halloween, where all people dress up in multicolored costumes, thus changing briefly to favorite heroes and caricatures, while joining joyful parades with floats and masquerades.
In playful traditions, March holds the “daffodil” as its birth flower, a beautiful blossom which, according to an ancient myth, was the result of a man’s transformation to a flower, after dying close to a river while adoring his reflection. Finally, the zodiac signs for March are Pisces and Aries, which refer to personalities open to emotional and intellectual change respectively.
March is viewed similarly all around the world. In Finnish it is called maaliskuu, believing to be derived from an expression which translates to “earthly month”, referring to the first appearance of earth, under the winter snow. In Slovenia the traditional name is susek, meaning the month where the ground is dry enough for cultivation. In Ukrainian the word for it is березень/berezenʹ, meaning birch tree.
March: The Symbol of Rebirth
Still, though, for a month central to the idea of natural and habitual changes signifying the circle of “birth, death and rebirth”, Spring’s first child is unfortunately linked to one more kind of change, following it to the etymology of its name. The word “March” comes straight from “Mars”, who, according to Roman mythology, was the god of warfare. Thus, since antiquity, every March marked the end of peace and the beginning of wars, the alteration of the status quo – one more turnabout, drawing more from the dreadful idea of “death”, than the bright one of “rebirth”.
This, though, shouldn’t plague our hearts with fear. Because, even if March started as a month for warfare in our ancestors’ minds, today it is the gatekeeper for Spring, which is nothing less than Nature’s reminder of hope. Even through the darkest days of winter, the sun will shine on humanity again. Even when tragedy strikes, in the end, life always finds a way. In turn, even when the horrible sirens of war echo in any part of the world, it won’t last forever. Change is always around the corner. And along with it, the gentle sound of peace awaits.
Time is everlasting and uncertain. There are only two certainties: One is that everything changes. The second is that all that is born can die. But even under the veil of death, the noblest ideas of men stand tall. Each year, the ice melts to reveal the earth – our ground, which has witnessed not only bloodshed, but also love and kindness. In the core of things, justice always prevails. And even after death, all things beautiful are reborn.
March reminds us of this change, even though it is a tough month to walk though. Still, though, that’s what makes the journey worth it: The anticipation that beyond the winter darkness, lays the warmth of spring.
Eleftheria Kollia - The Tiny Storyteller