Saturday, December 31, 2011

For pagans, the Roman new year was on 1st of March

Before the day is out, just like to remind the pagans in some of us that today (1st March) is also the Kalendas Martias — the start of the Roman New Year.

('Roman' as in 'Roman Empire.')

As a renegade pagan with long hair and cowboy boots, it behoves (AmE: behooves) me to mention this important date to all fellow pagans (such as architects, used-car salesmen, printers, lawyers, photographers, boxers and cooks).

The Roman month of Martius (March) was devoted to and named after Mars, the god of war. Rather than a month about warfare, it is in fact a month filled with fasti (celebrations, feasts), so much so that there was a special restday from the festivities.

Not exactly a month of Sundays, the month of Martius also had days for fasts and a day for bloodletting, and even a parade of pines or palms. Sound familiar? It should. Easter and Lenten partly originated from those Roman activities.

If you're a bit mad like me and actually sort of celebrate the Roman new year, the festival lasts for three days and normal rules of society are put on hold during this time (but not totally so).

During the three days, ancient Romans boozed and pigged out in feasts and exchanged gifts that have been chosen for their propitious symbolism — sweets or honey (to mean a sweet life — la dolce vita — and peace) and gold, silver and money (for prosperity). They also filled and lit up lamps and decorated the home with greenery. (Done.)

The politically ambitious might also present gifts to the Roman emperor and wish him good fortune for the year ahead. In return, the emperor would present gifts to politicians and allies.

Bohica! *

Just around the corner (next weekend, in fact), the ides of March (15th March) will descend upon us. Those of you who still remember their Classics will recall that Idus Martiae (ides of March) marks the first full moon of the new year — so better watch out for full-moon nutters!

At a stretch in our over-religious world of today, consider offering public and private sacrifices to the Roman divinity Anna Perenna on 15th March in her sacred grove on the Via Flaminia that runs from the Italian city of Rimini to the Adriatic coast. Your sacrifices for prosperity (and safety from lunatics) to Anna P. should be done "throughout the year and for years to come, as conveniently as it is lawful," so advised Macrobius (Saturnalia I, 12:6, page 85, 5th century AD).

* Acronym for "Bend over, here it comes again!"