Posted on March 22, 2016
March, the third month of the year, was named after Mars, the Roman God of war, but also a guardian of agriculture and the ancestor of Roman people being the father of Romulus and Remus.
That’s what the Western European tradition says, but in Slavic which is the tradition of my ancestors the story is a bit different, or is it?
When I was little I had to memorise two names for each month of the year. At the time I did not understand why. I had no problems with extra words, but I could not figure out why months had two official names each. One was Croatian, and the other was a latinised form that was the preferred form used in formal documents in Yugoslavia.
Now, let me go back to the month in question.
Not until recently did I find out the meaning of the Croatian name for March. It is ožujak and if you ask anybody who is not etymologically aware what that word really means in Croatian, they would go blank.
My research showed that what we now call “ožujak” which is an entirely obscure word in my language, used to be “lažujak” from “laž” meaning “lie” which indicates the deceiving, fickle quality of the month that tricks plant-life into sprouting too soon as suggested also in old Polish name for the month („łżykwiat“, „łżekwiat“ and „łudzikwiat“).
If you think that this reference to March is off-putting and somewhat unfair, let me tell you what Serbs used to call it. In their old calendar the name for March was “derikoža” which means skinner or skinning, implying that March, the month when winter meets spring, is the time when grim reaper harvests most souls, but also the time for skinning animals, or so the Serbian tradition claims. The same word is still in use in Serbian language to denote skinner or shark.
Even though I never thought highly of March, I was surprised to see so many references to death related to it. Do you recall the Ides of March from Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar – ‘Beware the Ides of March’ is the soothsayer’s message to Julius Caesar, warning Caesar of his death – (Cesar was indeed killed on the Ides i.e. 15th of March in 44 B.C.)
I will not show March as the month that claims lives either human or animal, instead I’ll focus on its fickle nature, its deceiving weather that should not be taken lightly.
“Beware of the sunshine of March” I used to be told when I was a kid living on the coast in the far south of Croatia.
Back then I did not understand why; now I do.
This is my entry for Cardinal’s Changing Seasons challenge.