March 25: The Annunciation
This day celebrates the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.
Happy New Year! Until 1752, March 25 was observed as New Year's Day. But other dates had been used, too.
Early Christians settled on December 25 as the date they celebrated the birth of Jesus, and they regarded each new year (numbered "Anno Domini" or "in the year of Our Lord") as beginning on that day. But, during the Middle Ages, the church decided that, if the years were indeed to be numbered from the coming of Jesus to Earth, then they should be numbered from the date he was first present in his mother Mary's womb. So Annunciation Day, which falls nine months before Christmas, became New Year's Day.
Widely known throughout England as Lady Day (in honour of "Our Lady Mary"), this used to be one of the most important days of the year - it was both a holiday and the day on which tenants and farmers paid their taxes and their rent.
When England and Wales finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 (it was already used by other European countries, including Scotland), eleven days were omitted to correct ancient Roman miscalculations in the precise length of the year.
There were riots in some cities (including Bristol) with mobs claiming:
"We're being robbed of 11 days of our lives." To avoid accusations of collecting a whole year's taxes for just 354 days, the Government decided that annual taxes due on Lady Day 1753 should be collected 11 days late - on April 5. Each tax year still ends on that date.
The Annunciation has been a favourite subject for artists through the centuries but some Protestants have downplayed it on the grounds that it adulates Mary at the expense of Christ.
The story of Gabriel's visit to Mary is told in St Luke's Gospel chapter 1, verses 26-38. In pairs, Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils might act out the story, emphasising Mary's surprise and obedience.
Older students might devise a modernised version: suppose Mary received an email or a text.
Research classic paintings of the Annunciation and discuss the ways artists (such as Leonardo da Vinci) have formalised the subject.
A detailed account of the change to the calendar in 1752 is at www.ancestry.comlearnlibraryarticle.aspx?article=3358