(5) Kalenda, from which the English word calendar derives, refers to the first day of the month, and especially to the first day of the year. Saturnalia was a popular Roman holiday on the 17th of December, dedicated to the god, Saturn. Kratesis, which was on the first of August, commemorated the day that Augustus conquered Alexandria in Egypt. Note that I have used the names of these holidays as Albeck states that they should be read. Medieval scribes often did not know what these holidays were or what their names were and different forms of the words can be found in other versions of the mishnah.
The anniversary of the accession of the king to the throne is also considered to be a day of celebration full of idolatrous practices.
The final two days of idolatrous celebration are personal: one’s birthday and the anniversary of the death of a close relative. On these days non-Jews would make idolatrous celebrations. Interestingly, Jews did not traditionally celebrate birthdays because it was seen to be a non-Jewish custom.
With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.
(10) This is an etymological story of the origins of Kalenda and Saturnalia. Some scholars also point to this story as the origin of why we light candles on Hannukah. Holidays around the winter solstice are often associated with fire, as a way of noting the beginning of the days getting longer, or to at least bring light to the darkest days of the year (in the northern hemisphere). There is also a sense here of cultural expropriation—your holidays were originally our holiday (in a sense) and you corrupted them. While there is of course a negative side to this phenomenon, the supremacist ideology it espouses, it also seems to me quite natural.
The Sages taught: On the day that Adam the first man was created, when the sun set upon him he said: Woe is me, as because I sinned, the world is becoming dark around me, and the world will return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven. He spent all night fasting and crying, and Eve was crying opposite him. Once dawn broke, he said: Evidently, the sun sets and night arrives, and this is the order of the world. He arose and sacrificed a bull whose horns preceded its hoofs in the order that they were created, as it is stated: “And it shall please the Lord better than a bullock that has horns and hoofs” (Psalms 69:32). This verse is referring to the one particular bull whose horns preceded its hoofs.
(12) Poor Adam, always getting afraid of the dark! This story seems to explain a curious verse from Psalms. Why would the verse say “a bull that has horns and hooves”? Don’t most bulls have them? Is there any reason to note that the bull has these features? The midrash reads this as a bull whose horns were created before its hooves. Now there can only have been one such bull in all of history—the first bull. And who else could have sacrificed the first bull—Adam. So Adam must be saying this verse. And why would Adam offer thanksgiving—because the sun went away and the came back again. It’s actually quite a remarkable piece of exegetical thinking.
(13) Here is the origin of the Jewish version of the unicorn. There was once a unicorn in the world. But alas, Adam sacrificed it. This would seem to explain a difficult point with the earlier midrash. If Adam sacrificed an animal then there would be no other descendants of that animal. So what animal must that have been? The unicorn! Another great story.