In English we say that March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. Italians add a twist: "Marzo pazzerello (crazy March) arriva da leone e se ne va come un agnello."
Marzo (named for Mars, the god of war) has always had a reputation for being pazzo (crazy). Someone who seems unpredictable and impulsive is said to be nato di marzo (born in March). Sole di marzo, onda di mare, pianto di donna: non ti fidare, Italians caution. (March sun, ocean wave, woman’s crying: don't trust any of them.)
Julius Caesar would have been wise to trust a fortune teller who warned that harm could come to him no later than March 15. On that day, as he made his way to the Teatro di Pompeo, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, "The ides of March have come." The seer replied, "But not gone.”
Shakespeare immortalized the phrase, "Beware the Ides of March” (Attenti alle Idi di Marzo), but everyone may need to beware of March weather. “Arriva marzo pazzerello” Italians say, “Esce il sole e prendi l’ombrello!” (Here comes crazy March; the sun comes out, and you grab your umbrella!)
On some March days piove (it rains). On others fa freddo (it’s cold). How cold? “Il freddo di marzo penetra nel corno del bue,” the saying goes. (The cold of March pierces the ox’s horns—or more colloquially, when it’s cold in March, you freeze your bum off.) Another proverb offers some comfort: Non c'è marzo così bello senza neve sul cappello. (March is not so beautiful without snow on your hat).
According to folklore, the last three days of March are called i giorni della vecchia (the old lady's days) or giorni imprestati (borrowed days). Way back in the time when March had only 28 days, an old woman decided to take her sheep into the fields because, as she declared, March was over and could not torment her with cold any more. Offended by these words, March "borrowed" three days from April and made sure that they chilled the old woman to the bone.
“Fine di marzo, primi di aprile, ancora freddo può venire,” goes another saying. (End of March, beginning of April, more cold can still come.) But brighter weather is also on the way. Marzo tinge (March stains) ma april dipinge (but April paints).
Even in a chilly wind, keep these words in mind: Vento di marzo, odore di primavera! (Wind of March, smell of Spring!)
Words and Expressions:
Marzo: un sole e un guazzo — March: a sun and a shower
San Giuseppe vecchierello, ancora fuoco e mantello — On old St. Joseph’s day, you still need the fire and the cape
Marzo asciutto, ricco frutto — Dry March, rich fruit
Marzolino, marzuolo — of the month of March
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.