Pridie Kalendas March
Modern Date : February 28th
Pridie Kalendas March
Day Before the Kalends of March
This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.
Roman New Year's Eve
Being at the end of the original Roman year, and preceding New Year's Day on March 1st, made this day especially representative of rebirth, renewal and full of the promise of the coming Spring. This evening would be the Roman equivalent of New Year's Eve.
In the ancient Far East, this was held to be the day of conception of Buddha.
February is a month sacred to the gods Mars (as Quirinus, or Romulus) and Juno, the wife of Jupiter. Juno (Hera, was the mother of Mars. Mars was known to the Greeks as Ares, the god of war.
Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras
This year the New Moon coincides with Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the licentious and ecstatic all-nighter that culminates Carneval week (2/22 - 28), just before Ash Wednesday.
In some parts of the world Carnival begins on November 11th. In other places it starts the week before Ash Wednesday. For the members of the Samba schools of Rio de Janeiro and the Crewes of New Orleans, the planning begins as soon as this year's Carnival has finished.
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the final day of the celebration. The whole time of Carnival is a time of riotous activity, when there are no holds barred on behavior. Masked balls gave people an opportunity to disguise themselves and act out fantasies. The name Carnival derives from carne vale, "good-bye to meat," as devout Catholics abstained from eating any rich foods during the six weeks of Lent.
Shrove Tuesday is usually marked by the consumption of rich, fatty foods and especially meats. Each part of France has its own special dish: pigs’ trotters in Champagne, pigs’ ears in Ardeche, a leg of goat in Touraine. It's also customary to serve various rich, deep-fried pastries and cakes including pancakes, fritters, waffles, eclairs, doughnuts and cream puffs. In Venice, the pastry of the day is galani, egg dough fritters, made with white wine, eaten cold and powdered with sugar. In Russia, the special food of the day is the blini, which is served with butter, caviar, sour cream and other rich toppings.
Carol Field(Celebrating Italy) describes a variety of Carnival celebrations in Italy. One of the wildest is celebrated in Ivrea which imports a trainload of blood oranges from Sicily for wild battles in the Piazza which leave the combatants bruised and dripping, while the gutters run with the red juice. In previous centuries, the items thrown included confetti (sugared almonds), candles, beans, caramels and coriander seeds rolled in plaster or flour and left to dry. Some of these make sense—the beans, for instance, recall the Roman feast of Parentalia when black beans were thrown to propitiate the ancestors—while the candles evoke the candles of Candlemas. Nowadays shaving cream is sprayed everywhere leaving everyone and everything covered in white foam.
Masked balls are part of Carnival celebrations in many places, but particularly in Venice and Germany. Pam Mandel(Attack of the Jelly Donut), in her amusing chronicles of a winter spent in Austria, describes a sort of fancy debutante ball but in earlier times, the anonymity of masks and costumes allowed people to engage in licentious behavior that would normally be censured. Fasching is the name used in Germany and Austria for the masked figures, both grotesque and beautiful, that roam the street in search of food. Storace writes that in Greece, carnival provides an opportunity for free speech and uncensored social commentary. Costumes are used in this way, for instance to mock the pretensions of authorities. They also provide an opportunity for transvestism, not just sexual, but social, an opportunity to reveal what is normally hidden.
Celebrations of Carnival reached their height in Italy in the middle ages, especially in Venice. In 1214, in Venice, Carnival was celebrated with a sort of mock battle in which 12 noble ladies held a fortress which was attacked by assailants throwing flowers, perfumes and spices. Goethe attending a carnival celebration in Rome in 1787 wrote a beautiful passage about the effects of the candlelight processions of Shrove Tuesday which Carol Field quotes in her book on celebrations in Italy:
The darkness has descended into the narrow, high-walled street before lights are seen moving in the windows and on the stands; in next to no time the fire has circulated far and wide, and the whole street is lit up by burning candles.
The balconies are decorated with transparent paper lanterns, everyone holds his candle, all the windows, all the stands are illuminated, and it is a pleasure to look into the interiors of the carriages, which often have small crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, while in others the ladies sit with coloured candles in their hands as if inviting one to admire their beauty.
Sia ammazzato chi non porta moccolo. 'Death to anyone who is not carrying a candle.' This is what you say to others, while at the same time you try to blow out their candles….
Orloff's(Carnival: Myth & Cult) description of Carnival customs still observed in Telfs in the Tyrolean Alps gives us a glimpse of some of the ancient aspects of this festival. At dawn, a baker, an innkeeper, a chimney sweep, and a peasant carry a golden sun on a pole through the village, begging the sun to shine down on the carnival. Later the Wilden appear, men and boys in grotesque masks and costumes of moss, representing winter. They roam the streets, drunk and riotous, attacking anyone who crosses them. There is a simulated bear hunt, then another procession headed by a lantern bearer whose role is to search for carnival in the darkness of winter. He makes room for the Schleicher, the spirits of spring. Each wears a fantastic hat, a mask showing the face of a young person and a giant bell. Each carries in his right hand a stick stacked with pretzels (symbols of the sun) and in his left a linen handkerchief. The Schleicher do a magic circle dance, with slow, deliberate steps, their bells awaken the slumbering earth. This is followed by a mock tribunal (making fun of local politics and gossip) and the squirting of the crowd with water from the mouth of the carnival baby.
In Finland, Shrove Tuesday or Laskiainen is a time for outdoor parties. Everybody lends a hand to build a toboggan slide, and children as well as adults take part in the fun. Lanterns and candles are hung in surrounding trees and afterwards everybody comes back into the house for pea soup and almond-filled Lenten buns for dessert.
Bulgarian carnival celebrations feature masked dancers known as koukeri or startsi (which means old man). They dance at dawn in groups of seven or nine and perform comic scenes from every day life. They are often accompanied by other characters such as a bride, a king or an Arab. In parts of eastern Thrace they dress in women's clothing; in the Strandza mountains they dance on stilts. In some places they dance around a mast topped with a basket of straw which is ignited on the first day of Lent.
Like Groundhog’s Day, Shrove Tuesday is day for weather prognostication for the Pennyslvania Dutch who predict the height of the flax by the length of the icicles on Shrove Tuesday.
Finns celebrate the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, and its first compiler, Elias Lonnrot. This epic which combines mythology and hero tales influenced many writers including Tolkien in his writing of The Lord of the Rings (his Elvish resembles Finnish).
Out with the Shvod
Armenians roust the house guardians out of their lazy beds and into the fields for growing season duties on this day by banging on the walls with sticks and saying, "Out with the Shvod and in with the March."
St Radegund of the Oats
A saintly sixth-century queen (she married Clotaire, King of the Merovingians, but fled from him after he murdered her brother), her worship replaced that of the earlier grain goddess. The legend goes that while she was fleeing from her husband, she passed a farmer sowing oats and asked him to tell anyone that followed that he had not seen a woman pass since he sowed the oats. In the next few hours, the oats grew so tall that Radegund could hide herself among them and when the farmer delivered his message to the King, he called off the search. (A similar story is told about St Mildburga (Feb 23), St Walburga (Feb 25) and the Virgin Mary.)
People brought oats as offerings to her on her feast day which was celebrated earlier in England, on February 11. St Radegund's other feast day is August 13, which further confirms her connection with a grain goddess, as this is the date of a great goddess festival, when Artemis, Hecate and later the Virgin Mary were asked to protect the grain as it stood in the fields awaiting harvest.