Today is the March/Spring Equinox. This equinox marks the moment where the Sun crosses the equator and usually occurs between March 19-21 every year. Both the March and September equinoxes are when the Sun shines directly on the equator making night and day nearly equal.
The March equinox is the transition from winter to spring in the Northern Hemisphere but the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere (summer into fall). Various cultures celebrate March equinox as a time of rebirth. Many spring festivals are timed to coincide with the equinox and some religious events (Passover and Easter) use specific calculations based on the equinox to help determine the exact day of the event.
Though the equinox marks the changing of the seasons, it is quite common for winter effects to continue in many places far until May or even June.
And if you live in an agricultural area where sheep abound, a sure sign of Spring is that lambs are born. Lots of them. To this day no scientist has ever figured how the mother can instantly know her offspring in a field where so many lambs abound.
One of the deadliest train disasters in railroad history occurred during World War II in Italy when over 500 people would suffocate to death.
It began simply enough. On the evening 2 March 1944 freight train 8017 left Salerno, Italy to a rural area south of the city. This required it to pass through the Galleria delle Amri Tunnel Pass just outside Balvano. Although a freight train, it was common for a lot of civilian and military people to hop on the next convenient train. By the time the train had reached Balvano, the last train stop between the two long tunnels in the Apennines Mountains. it had 650 people aboard. It reached the stop near midnight and had to stop for maintenance.
At ten minutes to 1 am, the train began its ascent into the Galleria delle Amri. The tunnel was poorly ventilated with 1.3% grade. Not long after entering the tunnel the train came to complete stop for 30 minutes. The exact reasons are still unclear. Either the train could not pull the overloaded freight cars, or it was waiting for another train to exit from the opposite direction. Some argue that humidity had caused the train wheels to slip, and sandboxes were not helping.
Unfortunately, due to wartime restrictions, the train was burning low grade coal which produced a lot of excess and odorless carbon monoxide.
The train driver tried to reverse the train but fainted before he could accomplish it. An additional complication was that it was a two-locomotive set up. The driver in lead car could not communicate with the driver in the other one as they were not the same locomotive model. That driver was still trying to push forward. A brakeman walked back to Balvano getting there about 05:10. Quickly a locomotive was dispatched and got there by 0525. It was too late. Many people had exited the freight cars hoping to find better air in the tunnel and died there. There were so any corpses on the rails prevented it from removing the train. About 40 people in the last freight cars were alive. A second rescue mission at 08:40 was able to bring the train back to Balvano. The only train crew to survive was the brakeman and a fireman from the second locomotive.
Due to wartime restrictions, the US and Italians kept it out of the news. A commission was established to determine what happened. Blame was put on the low-quality coal and the station masters tolerating stowaways. The Italian railway company, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, declined all responsibility owing to the end of the war setup between the Italians and US. The Ministry of Treasury, in order to quell criticism, issued compensation to identified civilians (but it occurred 15 years later). A limitation on freight tonnage was introduced and the use of both diesel and steam locomotives for such routes were introduced, Steam engines were banned in 1959 and the line was electrified in 1996. Except for the train crew, the stowaways were buried in four common graves in Balvano cemetery.
Laetare Sunday is the fourth Sunday in the Lenten season. Since it is half way through Lent, it is a time to rejoice (Laetare means rejoice) and a time to understand about baptismal rebirth. Priests can elect to wear rose colored vestments on this Sunday. And the Gospel of John account of the blind man being healed is read. The Solemnity of St. Joseph, which is observed on March 19, will be moved to the following day should it be on Laetare Sunday.
On 18 March 1766 the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act to end a major uproar with the colonists in America.
The controversial act was passed on 22 March 1765 and required that every official document produced in the colonies have a British stamp on it. Official documents included legal documents but was expanded to include newspapers and even playing cards. The purpose of the act was to use the money to raise revenues for a standing army. In reaction to it, the Stamp Act Congress was created in the colonies to oppose it in October 1765. Opposition to the impending Stamp Act caused not only outrage but violence as well. Calls to boycott British goods were made and attacks on customhouses and even homes of tax collectors occurred. Benjamin Franklin made a personal appeal to the House of Commons to repeal the act.
Faced with opposition to the Stamp Act, it was repealed but on the same day Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which stated the government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. This set in motion conflict with the colonists who began to assert they ought to have a voice in laws passed by Parliament. The famous phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” would become an important part of the revolt that was coming.
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for bringing Christianity to Ireland. He was born in 390 A.D in Britain and raised by a Christian family. However he was not much interested in God and at the time was illiterate. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd on a hillside. All alone except for his sheep and captors. he began to cry out to God for rescue him. He had a dream in which God revealed himself and that he would be going home.
Risking his life, he boarded a ship for Britain where he returned to his family. He was welcomed back but realized that he had been transformed by God. He entered a monastery to pursue his calling as a Catholic priest. As a result of his education, he came to understand Holy Scripture and impressed his peers and superiors with his character. He would be made a bishop in due course. Nearly three decades after this slavery in Ireland, he felt a call from God that he had to return to Ireland and spread the word of Jesus to a people who had become lost. This was no easy journey for him since travel was difficult but he faced hostility from those who opposed him trying to convert people away from paganism. Patrick was ready though to face the trials that might take his life (he was attacked and beaten by thugs and Irish royalty disdained him) and persevered in proclaiming the Gospel and training converts.
His courageous leadership and his crisscrossing the countryside paid off as thousands and more would be converted. Churches were being established and he was training those to shepherd the church after he was gone. He would die on March 17, 461 A.D. He has been venerated as a saint and patron saint of Ireland since then by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. In Ireland it is a solemnity and thus a holy day of obligation. It is also a cultural day as well to celebrate Ireland. Traditionally many in Ireland will wear shamrocks, wear green, attend Mass, watch parades, have a special breakfast and dinner, and of course celebrate by having a beer in their favorite pub (or outside due to the crowds). It has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. Since the feast does fall within Lent and is a solemnity in Ireland, it is permissible to eat foods normally excluded during this time (or any food you have selected to give up). However outside of Ireland should the day fall on a Friday, the local bishop will provide guidance. Usually the bishop will give dispensation to allow Catholics to eat meat but usually asks they fast on a day during that week or the following one.
There are a lot of food traditions associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. Many foods though are more inspired than what was traditionally served in Ireland. And some would never be served ever in Ireland, such as green beer. It would be an insult to chemically dye a beer green in a country that loves their beer. So do not make the mistake of asking for green beer should you be in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day. They may laugh it off or you may be cut off and forced to stand outside the pub and mocked for your audacity.
One food associated with Ireland is soda bread. This was a common staple (and still is) in Ireland but it was originally a very humble bread free of all the leavenings and additions you see in grocery stores. Since yeast is rather hard to use in the wet climate of Ireland (they had yeast they could use for sourdough and from other sources), baking soda ultimately became important for making the daily bread, It only has five ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, sugar, and baking soda. And because you simply made it into ball, no kneading was needed. One very good recipe can be found at Old World Garden Farms which has the traditional recipe and shows how it can be made.
Once you master how to make it, you will see that it is actually a very tasty bread for daily use. And if you like raisins, go for it. I like it either way (plain or with raisins). And the ingredients are very inexpensive, So if you are looking to get in touch with your Irish roots, try making this soda bread. Now Max Miller, who does the excellent Tasting History series over on YouTube, has a video on this very subject.
Here is a brief but very good overview of Saint Patrick done by The History Guy.
A very popular song in Ireland is The Minstrel Boy by Thomas More. One rendition ended up, in all places, in Star Trek:The Next Generation. Chief O’Brien meets with his old commanding officer (Captain Maxwell) to convince him to back down from a confrontation he is sure to lose with with Captain Picard. They reminisce about a fallen comrade who used to sing this song. And O’Brien sings with Maxwell, forcing him to realize he has made a mistake. It is from the season 4 episode The Wounded.
Here is a fuller version done by John McDermott in 2022. It is beautiful and rousing version of this song.
Today is 15 March and on the old Roman calendar was a day of religious observance to the Roman god Jupiter and other lesser deities. But it is most famous as the date in 44 BC when Julius Caesar was assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate. 60 conspirators were involved but the leaders were Brutus and Cassius. Caesar was forewarned of his death by a seer according to Plutarch. And in his famous work Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has the soothsayer say “beware the ides of March” which Caesar ignores and of course he ends up stabbed to death uttering the famous line before death:
Et tu Brute!
The assassination was a turning point for Rome. It brought about a civil war and ended the Roman Republic. Octavian (later Augustus) would become emperor and the Roman Empire would come to dominate the entire Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Britain. In Julius Caesar Mark Antony gives perhaps the most remembered funeral oration ever done. Most people recall the famous opening line:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.
The oration is masterful in that it cleverly turns the people against Brutus and Cassius by showing they were ambitious and not Caesar. By the end the plebeians call them traitors and murderers.
In real life, it was much the same. Antony played them by seemingly supporting amnesty but turning people against them both. Brutus was forced to leave and ended up on Crete, Cassius went east to gather support among the governors and to amass an army. Antony and Octavian would clash militarily causing divisions in Rome. This allowed the forces of Brutus and Cassius to march on Rome. However Octavian made peace with Antony upon this news so both forces joined to stop Brutus and Cassius. They met at Philippi on 3 Oct 42 BC. The first battle resulted in Brutus defeating Octavian but Antony defeating Cassius. Not knowing that Brutus had defeated Octavian, Cassius took his own life. At the second battle of Philippi on 23 October, Brutus was defeated and forced to flee into the hills where he committed suicide. Antony treated his body with great respect by having it wrapped his most expensive purple mantle. His body was cremated and remains sent to his mother.
Spring is almost here but winter still has a kick in it.
And in case you forgot-Daylight Savings Time began at 2 am by adding one hour to 3 am on March 12. So if you did not do so, you need to move your clock one hour ahead or you will be late for work on Monday!
On March 8, 1917 (February 24 on the Julian calendar used at the time) events would begin unfolding in Russia that would bring about the end of the Czarist regime in Russia and the establishment of a new provisional government that would transition to a parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately that interim government would itself be overthrown in October (November) by the Bolsheviks that established the Communist government in Russia that would last until 1991.
Russia lagged behind the major powers of Britain, France and Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike those powers which had fully industrialized and developed powerful economies, Russia was still primarily agrarian and had a very small industrial sector. Additionally it failed to modernize during this period and clung on to old social and political structures that made little sense in a more industrialized world. Capitalism was able to flourish in many places but not in Russia, where the autocracy did not allow it much room to develop. So Russia was considered a very backward nation.
Russia had disastrously involved itself in World War I. With a poor industrial sector, it was no match for heavily industrialized and better led German forces. Russia suffered heavy casualties and defeats. The economy could not absorb the cost of the war causing shortages of all kinds leading to unrest in the streets of Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg-renamed to remove any connection to Germany). Radicals and moderates united to call for change and the end of the Czar. Widespread demonstrations began on March 8 in Petrograd. By 10 March all of Petrograd’s workers were on strike and some factories had elected their own deputies to workers committees.
The Petrograd garrison was called out on 11 March and some demonstrators were killed but the demonstrations continued. Then the Czar dissolved the Duma on the same day and troops began to waver. The following day on 12 March 1917, the Petrograd regiments defected to the demonstrators giving them 150,000 new supporters. On 15 March 1917 the rule of the Czars came to an end with the formal abdication of Nicholas II (his brother declined to be Czar). The new provisional government decided to stay in the war but had major challenges such as how to resolve the food shortages and other crises as well. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party but exiled in Switzerland, was brought back to Russia by the Germans in a sealed train. He would take charge and ultimately lead the Russian Revolution later that year that would install the first Communist government in world history.
It was a cold snowy night on 5 March 1770 when a mob of American colonists gathered at the Customs House in Boston. The protestors were objecting to the occupation of Boston by British troops. The troops had been sent in 1768 after resentment grew at unpopular taxation measures (Stamp Act and Townshend Act) passed by the British parliament. Since no one from the colonies was represented in parliament, it led to a backlash back in Boston.
Tensions had been running high for a while. Skirmishes between soldiers and colonists, and between patriot colonists and loyalists (colonists loyal to Britain) had been going on for a while. Loyalist stores were vandalized and customers intimidated. One such attack on a loyalist store on 22 Feb 1770 ended tragically. A Customs officer (Ebenezer Richardson ) tried to break up the rock throwing crowd by firing his gun through the window of his home. He ended up killing an 11 year old boy named Christopher Seider. This enraged the Patriots and tensions between Patriots and British soldiers were raised.
The one guard outside the Customs House was facing a mob and called for assistance. The commanding officer of the Customs House, Captain Thomas Preston, ordered his soldiers to fix their bayonets and join the guard outside. The colonists began throwing snowballs, which hit some of the troops. One of the troops, Private Hugh Montgomery, was hit and fired back. Others fired as well. When the smoke cleared, five were dead or dying and three more were injured. The five that were killed were Crispus Attucks (African American), Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell. Many consider them the first casualties of the American Revolution.
The British soldiers were put on trial and were defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy. Two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter in December 1770. The two soldiers had their thumbs branded with an M for murder as punishment.The incident would be used by the patriot group Sons of Liberty (formed in 1765) who advertised this as a just cause for removal of British troops.
Paul Revere made an engraving that was widely distributed showing the British soldiers lining up to shoot the patriots. Though not accurate, it helped convey an anti-British message to many in the colonies. Tension decreased for a while but many were unhappy at the lack of representation in British parliament. The hated Stamp Act had already been repealed by this time (in 1766) but the Declaratory Act passed at the same time said parliament had the right to pass any colonial legislation it saw fit. Rather that quell the tension, it was made worse. Patriot colonists were outraged that as citizens of the British colonies they had no voice in government on any of these major issues like taxes or how justice was to be administered. It would lead to growing tension until the revolt would break out in earnest in 1775.
[Due to electricity outages and other issues, I was not able to post much during February. Back to regular posting now.]
March is the third month on both the old Julian and current Gregorian calendar. It is the month that begins spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. March is believed to be derived from the Roman god Mars (Greek equivalent Ares). Before the advent of the Julian calendar, Romans considered March the first month of the new year. The March equinox is usually around March 21-22. Many spring festivals take place in March. Passover and Easter may take place in March, but not always as it is dependent upon very specific calculations and can change from year to year. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17. If it falls on a Friday, Catholics are given dispensation to eat meat on that day (at least in Ireland and in areas where the feast is celebrated). The famous Ides of March (March 15) was once a day to pay debts in Rome but it became infamously associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar on that day in 44 BC.
Daylight savings time begins in the U.S. and Canada on the second Sunday in March. March has two birthstones that reflect courage: aquamarine and bloodstone. The flower for March is the daffodil.