March 18-24

…when the night and day are equally divided, Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to Nirvana.”


Thus, in Japan the Sundays prior to the spring equinox (shuubun no hi) and the fall equinox (shunbun no hi) are known as O-higan. Days on which families visit and honor the graves of the departed. Ancestors are said to watch over the family like tutelary, guardian deities. That’s why we give thanks to our ancestors whenever we encounter success or prosperity . (But of course if we fail, it’s our own damn fault.)

Favorite foods are prepared for the departed, such as Ohagi (soft rice balls covered in sweetened bean jam), sushi, and vinegar rice & veggies. On the last day of the week, rice flour dumplings, special fruits and sweets are offered.

In Buddhism, O-higan is a time to focus on the 6 Perfections, or Pāramitā:

1. Dana – generosity

2. Sila – virtue

3. Ksanti – patience

4. Virya – effort

5. Dhyana – meditation (also ‘zen’)

6. Prajna – wisdom


The O-higan days have been celebrated in Japan since the 8th century. The name Higan literally means, “the other shore” and is short for Tohigan—to arrive at the other shore. The 6 Pāramitā are the bridge that will enable us to cross over to the other shore of Nirvana.

Saint Joseph’s Day – New Orleans

March 19

St. Joseph
St. Joseph

In New Orleans, Carnival season doesn’t end with Mardi Gras, it just gets going. On the heels of the Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day comes St. Joseph’s Day, one of the biggest celebrations of the year.

Saint Joseph is the Patron Saint of Italy; he’s particularly revered in Sicily, where prayers to the saint are believed to have ended a deadly drought in the Middle Ages. His Feast Day is celebrated by Italian communities throughout Europe and the Americas. And March 19 is celebrated as Father’s Day in countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Bolivia and Honduras.

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In New Orleans, Saint Joseph’s Day has long been celebrated by Italian-American communities. Just as the Irish throw cabbage, carrots, and potatoes in the New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day parades, the Italians have recently begun throwing spaghetti (thankfully uncooked and in boxes). Just don’t throw meatballs, as St. Joseph’s Day falls in the middle of Lent.

But the stars of Saint Joseph’s Day aren’t Italian at all. They’re the Mardi Gras Indians. The Mardi Gras Indians consist of dozens of “tribes”, centered around African-American communities. The tribes have names such as the Golden Eagles, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Fi Ya Ya, Creole Wild West, Cheyenne Hunters, Yellow Pocahontas, and Guardians of the Flame. They meet throughout the year, but come Carnival season the tribes really strut their stuff. Literally. The tribes blend West Indian and African roots with Native American traditions to create some of the most incredible outfits, or “suits”, you’ll ever see.

The suits involve hundreds of feathers, beads, and other ornamentations. Tribe members—the Chiefs especially—can spend all year, and thousands of dollars, on a single outfit, and do so year after year.

The traditions and rivalries go back to at least WWI, though in not as formalized a way. Tradition holds that the Chiefs of each tribe confront each other and present their suits on Mardi Gras and Super Sundays (the Sundays closest to St. Joseph’s Day), surrounded by their designated Flag Boys, who carry banners and  totems. Each Chief spreads his wings to emphasize the beaded panels hanging from his arms and chest.


Around 1970 the ceremonies were moved from the evening of St. Joseph’s Day to the nearest Sunday afternoon, making it a more family-friendly event, but the Mardi Gras Indians still meet and celebrate on March 19th as well.

Most years, there are actually two Super Sundays, usually one on either side of March 19. One is led by the Uptown Indians, called “New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council’s Super Sunday,” and the other by the Downtown Indians, called “Tambourine and Fan.”

The costumes are the most visual, but by no means the only tradition of Super Sundays. The celebrations include singing, dancing, music, and performance.

No one’s sure why the tribes celebrate on St. Joseph’s Day.

According to the late Chief “Tootie” Montana, interviewed by the NY Times in 2004, it’s because “the Italians and us were like this,” he said holding two fingers together.

Montana, the “Godfather of the Chiefs” had been a involved with the Indians for over a half-century when he died of a heart attack at a New Orleans City Council meeting on June 27, 2005. His last act was to testify against police violence towards the Indians during the celebrations.

“With 83 years under his belt, this man came to the podium and reviewed interactions with the police over the past 52 years he’s been involved. Tootie astutely blew holes in all of Mayor Nagin’s exhortations by describing the police violence he has seen and experienced over his many years as Chief…His last words were ‘This has got to stop,’ and he turned from the podium, slumping towards the floor.”

— http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2005/06/3515.php

Allison "Tootie" Montana
Allison "Tootie" Montana

Montana died just two months before Hurricane Katrina. Over the past several years, the Mardi Gras Indians have worked to overcome the double tragedy of the loss of the Chief of Chiefs and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Describing one recent St. Joseph’s Day confrontation between tribal chiefs, the New Yorker writes,

“This was the moment, in the old days, when a knife would flash, a shot would pop, a broken bottle would fly. But the legacy of Tootie Montana and countless other chiefs who have striven to transform Indian culture from gang warfare to street art held firm. The drumming and chanting reached a crescendo, then burst and faded. The two chiefs laughed and embraced; the sweaty crowd applauded, took swigs from bottles of water and beer, and moved on down the avenue to find another battle.”


Beware the Ides of March

March 15, 44 BC

How Diarrhea Changed the World

On this day in 44 BC Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a cadre of Senators who called themselves “the Liberators.”

During Caesar’s reign the Roman Empire achieved an unprecedented amount of power and land area, stretching from Britain to Africa to the Middle East. Caesar conquered Gaul and led the first Roman invasion of Britain.

The Roman Civil War of 50 BC divided the Romans between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar emerged victorious and became the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire.

It was theorized by Cassius Dio that the main reason behind the conspiracy to murder Caesar was that he refused to rise, as was the custom, when he met with a delegation of Senators who informed Caesar of the honors they had bestowed upon him. And that the reason he did not rise, was not out of a lack of appreciation for the Senate, but of a severe case of diarrhea.

The doom associated with the Ides of March acquired new potency in 1939 when Adolf Hitler strode into Czechoslovakia without firing a shot, thanks to Western leaders, and proclaimed “Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist.”


Date varies. Begins March 19, 2011.

It’s the day that puts the ‘holi’ in holiday. Holi literally translates to “burning”, but fire isn’t the most prominent image of the festival. Holi is all about color. Colored powders, colored waters fly through the air as celebrants young and old ‘colorize’ the world around them—by flinging powders and streams at their friends, neighbors, and any passersby.

Holi is a joyous celebration, though somehow the editor of the piece below has spliced it into a Bollywood horror film. (Are there Bollywood horror films?) I can hear the Hollywood producers pitching it now… Slumdog Millionaire meets 28 Days Later.

Do NOT wear your best clothes on Holi as the video below demonstrates.

Holi Festival: Street Action

Other Holi festivities are more ceremonial, but the words “muted” and “tame” don’t fit into any of them.

Holi is a Spring celebration. One legend corelates the holiday with an evil king named Hiranyakashipu. The king forbade his son Prahlad from worshipping the god Vishnu. Prahlad refused to do so, so the king challenged Prahlad to sit with Prahlad’s wicked aunt Holika—who was believed to be impervious to fire—on a burning pyre.  To everyone’s surprise, it was Holika that burned and not Prahlad, who remained unharmed.

During Holi, the rules that govern Hindu society throughout the year are somewhat relaxed. Class, caste, status and gender become secondary distinctions to the bright magenta, orange, red, green and every-other-color-of-the-rainbow powders covering everyone’s skin and clothes.

Holi falls on the full moon of the month of Phalguna.


Hina Matsuri – Doll Day in Japan

March 3

It’s Hina Matsuri, or Doll Day in Japan.

But no, your old “Tickle Me Elmo” and Molly McIntire won’t cut it. These dolls are often handed down from generation to generation, and are displayed in a very ritualized manner once a year.

A full set of “Hina Ningyo” dolls can cost anywhere from $400 to $10,000, and consists of roughly 15 pieces—“figurines” may be a more accurate term. The main two dolls are the O-Dairi-sama and O-Hina-sama, an Emperor and an Empress/Princess, both dressed in fine silk.

Hina Matsuri
Hina Matsuri display

The other figures include

  • 3 Ladies of the Court, or kanjo, often depicted serving sake
  • 2 Ministers or Guards
  • and 5 or more Court Musicians or Servants

Tradition dictates that prior to the third day of the third month (March 3) families of young girls set up the dolls on a tiered platform covered in a bright red cloth.<

On the top step sits the Royal Couple.

On the next step are the 3 kanjo with banquet trays.

And displayed on the lower steps stand the figures of musicians, ministers, guards, and servants, as well as miniatures of household furnishings and two toy trees. (see photo)

Hina Doll Set at Kansas City Japanese Festival

The holiday is also called Momo no Sekku, meaning Festival of the Peach. In the old calendar the day coincided with the blossoming of the peace trees in Japan.

An example of Hina Matsuri is shown in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams:

Part I: The Peach Orchard

In the beautifully surreal scene, life size figures tell a little boy:

“…Doll Day is for the Peach Blossoms. It is to celebrate their arrival. We dolls personify the peach tree. We are the spirits of the trees, the life of the blossoms…”

In American culture there is no equivalent to Hina Matsuri, but it might be compared to a chess set meets a nativity scene, although the dolls do not refer to any specific personages.

Written references to the holiday date back a thousand years. It grew out of the belief that these human representations could absolve oneself from sin. Traditionally, people would make dolls of folded paper or straw, rub them against oneself, and set them in the water, to carry away their sins with the tide. Even today many towns in Japan carry on this tradition.

Hina Matsuri became a legal holiday in 1687.

Feast of Ala – Bahai

March 2

Bahai symbol

March 2 is the first day of the last month of the Baha’i calendar. The calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days each for a total of 361 days. Between the 18th and 19th months are 4 “intercalary days” from February 26 to March 1.

Each 19-day month begins with a “Feast.” It’s not the kind of feast we think of where folks pig out on big fat chicken legs, guzzle wine, and someone plays the lute. The Baha’i “Feasts” are monthly meetings/services.

The Feast consists of three parts. The devotional part when sacred texts are read. The consultative part when the congregation conducts administrative affairs and discusses anything from upcoming events to the situation of the Baha’i Faith around the world. And the social part, when  the host serves refreshments and members share their thoughts on the previous two portions in a more casual atmosphere.

There are no clergy. A chairman conducts the meeting, but portions of the service are “led” by different members each month.

Today is the Feast of Ala (Loftiness). It’s a special “Feast” because it actually marks the beginning of the annual 19-day Fast of Ala. Born in the same tradition as the Jewish High Holy Days and the Christian Lent, the fast of Ala is more similar to the Muslim Ramadan in the sense that Bahais can eat at night, but must refrain from eating from sunrise to sunset.

At the end of Ala, Bahais usher in the New Year (Naw Ruz) which coincides with the Spring Equinox on March 21.

Baha’i at a Glance

The Bahá’í Faith has no official “home country”. The largest populations are in India (2 million), Iran (350,000), and the United States (150,000). [Other polls count 750,000 in the US, 500,000 in Iran, 350,000 in Vietnam, and 300,000 in Kenya.]

Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha’i Faith from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, summarized the essential elements of the religion as:

  • the independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition
  • the oneness of the entire human race…
  • the basic unity of all religions
  • the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national
  • the harmony which must exist between religion and science
  • the equality of men and women
  • the introduction of universal compulsory education
  • the adoption of a universal auxiliary language
  • the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty
  • the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations
  • the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship
  • the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society and ofreligion as a bulwark for the protection of all people and nations
  • and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind…”

Lofty, yes. But the Bahá’í Faith is currently the fastest growing major religion. It counts among its prophets Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Krishna, as well as Bahá’u’lláh.

The Baha’i 19-Day Feast

Are You Bissextile?

Answer: only during Leap Year…

The great-grand-daddy of our February 29th Leap Day goes back to the ancient Romans. I know what you’re thinking: Don’t we have anything that doesn’t go back to them? Uh, yes: numbers, and thank god for that, or taxes would be an even bigger drag. Also the dates of the month aren’t Roman—for which you’ll be grateful in a minute.

See, back in the day, when the Romans used a lunar calendar, the full moon fell directly in the middle of each month and was called the Ides. And the new moon at the beginning of the month was called the Kalends (from which we get the word calendar). And somewhere in between those two were the Nones. (From which we get the word nine. The nones were nine days before the Ides.)

Instead of saying it’s March 13th, the Romans would say It’s two days before the Ides of March. (Actually they’d say it’s three days before the Ides because they counted funny and that’s another reason you should be glad for Arabic numbers, but that’s neither here nor there.) Instead of saying it’s March 25th, they’d say it’s six days before the Kalends of April, or ante diem IV Kalends Aprilis.

March marked the beginning of the new year. To make up for the fact that the lunar calendar was only 355 days long, every few years a mensis intercalaris, or intercalary month, was tacked onto the end of February. February 23 was the annual Terminalia holiday, in which Romans celebrated Terminus—no, not the god of airports—the god of boundary stones and property disputes. Kind of like the ancient Judge Judy.

Whether a year would have a mensis intercalaris tacked on was determined by the Pontifex Maximus. The problem with this system is if Ponty’s friends were in office, he would have reason to extend the calendar year, whereas if an opposing party had power, he would have reason to shorten it. As a result of this friction and the chaos of the Punic Wars, the intercalary months were added or forgotten for decades at a time. Soon the calendar drifted into entirely different seasons.

Julius Caesar formalized the calendar. Each month was lengthened a certain number of days so the whole calendar would mirror the solar year, not the cycles of the moon—365 days. Instead of a whole month, a leap day was inserted after February 23 (or February 24) every four years.

Only they didn’t call it the 23rd or 24th. Remember we were talking about the Kalends and the Ides?

Since they were counting backwards from the beginning of March—excuse me—from the Kalends of March, they called it “doubling” the day six days prior to the Kalends of March. Or if you really want to get technical, “ante diem bis sextum Kalendas Martii.”

Bis sextum literally translated to doubling or splitting of the sixth day. Hence, leap years were known throughout the Middle Ages as “bissextile years.”

When Roman dating was replaced by the trusty 1-31 system, Leap Day was moved from February 25th to February 29th. Today, even though February is the 2nd month, we continue the 2000 year-old Roman tradition of placing the intercalaris at February’s end.

In simple English:

“When there is the double sixth day before the first day [of March], it matters not whether a person was born on the first or on the second day, and afterwards the sixth day before the first [of March] is his birthday; for those two days are regarded as one, but the second day is intercalated, not the first. And so he that was born on the sixth day before the first [of March] in a year in which there is no intercalation has the first day as his birthday in a leap year. Cato is of opinion that the intercalated month is an additional one, and he takes all its days for a moment of time, and Quintus Mucius assigns it to the last day of the month of February. But the intercalated month consists of twenty-eight days.”

–translation from Institutes and History of Roman Private Law with Catena of Texts, Salkowski & Whitfield

“Cum bissextum kalendas est, nihil refert utrum priore an posteriore die quis natus sit, et deinceps sextum kalendas eius natalis dies est, nam id biduum pro uno die habetur; sed posterior dies intercalatur non prior: ideo quo anno intercalatum non est sexto kalendas natus, cum bissextum kalendas est, priorem diem natalem habet. 1. Cato putat, mensem intercalarem additicium esse, omnesque eius dies pro momento temporis observat, extremoque diei mensis Februarii attribuit Quintus Mucius. 2. Mensis autem intercalaris constat ex diebus viginti octo.” –D. 50, 16, 98

[published Feb. 28, 2008]

Happy Death Day Julius Caesar

Osculating the Bissextile Way

Ladies First on Leap Day

Wikipedia: Leap Year

Wikipedia: Roman Calendar

Time and Date: Leap Day

Days of Ha

February 26-March 1

“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” —Tablets of Baha’u’llah

From February 26th (technically sunset on February 25th) until March 1st millions of Baha’i throughout the world celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha, literally “Days of Ha.”

“It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name.”

The Baha’i celebrate through feast, song, and prayer. Themes of the holiday are hospitality, charity and service to the community.The 4-day holiday—five in leap year—prepares celebrants for the upcoming month of Ala. Ala is the last month of the Baha’i, during which people fast for the entire month. They fast during the day only.The Baha’i calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days each. Count ‘em up, that’s 361 days. The “Ayyam-i-Ha”are the additional 4 days (or 5 for Leap Year) inserted after February 25.The tradition of tossing extra days after February 25 is not unique to the Baha’i. In fact, such an intercalary goes back thousands of years to the Ancient Romans…

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha! (pronounced “I am eeha!”)