Spring hopes eternal

The calendar got our attention last week with Friday the 13th. Have a nice day ... Two days later on the 15th it was the Ides of March. Watch your back ... The days mellowed out two more days later with the celebration of St. Patrick's Day on the 17th.

The week comes around full circle this Friday, March 20, when we mark the first day of spring on the Vernal Equinox.

So what's up with these days? They seem to have a staying power that has kept us paying attention to them. Maybe it's just that they add some color to our otherwise predictable day-to-day lives, giving us something to look forward to or to ponder as we strut and fret our brief candle on the stage like an idiot one tomorrow after another— or however that goes.

Like Friday the 13th. Before there was the slasher-movie franchise, the day had already achieved an ominous reputation, especially by the 19th century. The most reasonable explanation is that it's the combination of two things associated with foreboding: the number 13 and the day Friday.

Thirteen got a bad rap starting with Norse mythology. One night 12 gods were having dinner together in their heavenly abode of Valhalla, when the mischievous Loki showed up uninvited. Now there were 13 at the table. Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, had achieved immortality when all things on the Earth had promised they would not harm him. The mistletoe did not know of the promise.

It was great sport for the gods to fling their weapons at Balder and have them bounce off harmlessly. At the meal Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder with a arrow tipped with mistletoe and the god of joy and gladness died. After that the Earth mourned.

In Christian mythology 13 is unlucky for much the same reason. There were 13 people seated at the Last Supper. The next day Christ was crucified and the Earth mourned.

Friday became bad news when the Christians banished the Norse goddess Freya, whose day was Friday. Some say that after that Freya would gather with witches on Fridays and plot nefarious deeds.

And what's so bad about the Ides of March? When the Romans referred to the Ides of March, they simply meant "March 15." Every month had a date called the Ides. It was the 15th day in March, May, July, and October and the 13th for the other months.

The Ides of March happened to be the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated. The soothsayer's warning to Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March," wasn't heeded and has since been associated with forboding.

As with most feast days, the feast day of St. Patrick is meant to commemorate the day he died. That was March 17 around the year 493.

While it is estimated that 70 million people worldwide can claim Irish ancestry and that there are more Americans of Irish descent living in the United States than there are Irishmen living in Ireland, on St. Patrick's Day everybody becomes Irish for a day.

On St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, workers dye the Chicago River green. They've been doing that since 1962. The green color used to last for weeks. In these more ecologically conscious times, the vegetable-based dye lasts only a few hours. In New York City, the colored lights shining on the Empire State Building are green.

Everywhere you look on St. Patrick's Day the landscape is filled with people who have managed to round up something green to wear — a scarf, a pair of socks or at least a pin. Green is the color of Ireland and it is also the color of hope and new life.

For their part, the people wearing green on St. Patrick's Day look like walking plants — harbingers of the rebirth of spring and the Easter promise of hope.

In this year's calendar, the Vernal Equinox will bring spring to our winter-weary doorsteps at 4:44 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on March 20. At that moment the sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator bringing equal amounts of daylight and darkness. The days will keep getting longer and the nights shorter.

This always makes me wonder why we bother to artificially lengthen the days with daylight savings time, which we did, beginning on March 8. But never mind — I wonder why we do a lot of things.

And besides, it's Spring Break and there's too much else going on.

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