In the last few weeks, we’ve had some cold and wintery days, but while it may not feel real yet, spring is on the way. This is the week of the vernal equinox, when the days and nights are the same length, and the Northern Hemisphere starts tipping toward longer, warmer days. The first flowers are peeking out, the leaves are budding, and it won’t be long before the world is blooming and bright. This time of year feels full of potential, as the sap rises and all growing things lean toward springtime!
All around the world, different cultures mark the coming of spring in different ways. I’ve collected a few here, because what does a librarian like more than collecting things that belong to the same category? Some of these observances are deeply rooted in sacred tradition, some are decidedly secular but have been around so long that they’ve become very important to the people who celebrate them, and some are just nice, or even a little silly, but serve as a meaningful way to mark the change of season and the lengthening days. We celebrate spring in a lot of different ways, and here are a few that I found especially interesting:
This ancient Hindu festival of love and the coming of spring usually takes place a bit before the equinox, but as a colorful, joyful celebration of the triumph of good over evil, it fits in with the spring celebrations beautifully. Holi (pronounced hoh-lee) is celebrated all over India, with bonfires, music, dancing, and bright colors wherever you look. Participants throw colored water and powders over each other, forgive past grudges, and welcome the spring and summer.
The Persian New Year, Nowruz (no–rooz), is another celebration of the changing seasons with ancient roots. Modern day Iranians, as well as people in Western and Central Asia and beyond, have celebrated this holiday for 3,000 years. Given the holiday’s long history and geographic range, there are many variations on how it is celebrated. Common threads include cleaning house, buying flowers for the home, visiting friends and family, and preparing special foods. Many households also set up a Haftseen table with symbolic items to herald the coming of spring and the new year. These items may include an apple for beauty, garlic for health, vinegar for patience, a hyacinth for springtime, painted eggs for fertility, sprouts for rebirth, and coins for prosperity, but each table varies depending on the household’s preferences and traditions. In some places, Nowruz starts off with fire festival, in which people jump over small fires, symbolically purifying themselves and asking for health and luck in the year to come.
Shunbun no Hi
In Japan, the day of the spring equinox is a public holiday called Shunbun no Hi (shoon-boon-no-hee) and is part of a week-long celebration of springtime, with observances that hark back to Shinto religious traditions. While the holiday was officially secularized post World War II, many people still use the day to visit family and the graves of loved ones and clean house. It is a portentous day to begin or end something, and farmers often pray on this day for a good harvest.
Thousands of people mark the spring equinox by climbing the Pyramid of the Sun in the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan (tay-uh-tee-waa-kaan), not far from Mexico City. The pyramid was built around 200 CE and is the third largest pyramid in the world. On the equinox, visitors dress in white and climb the many steps of the pyramid to get closer to the sun on that special day and soak up the sun’s energy.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
For the past 600 years in Gloucestershire (gloss-ter-sheer), England, the locals have celebrated springtime by chasing a large wheel of cheese down a long and dangerously steep hill. In recent decades, as the event has gained notoriety, people have started coming from all over the world. The origins of this observance are lost to time, but every year people gather to race the cheese, which can get as fast as 70 miles per hour as it gains momentum rolling down the hill. It is a lively event and whoever crosses the finish line first gets to keep the cheese.
In the town of Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, residents and visitors gather at sunrise on the first day of spring for a giant shared meal of scrambled eggs at the Čimburijada (cheem-boor-yada) festival. Thousands of eggs are cracked, scrambled, and enjoyed while participants listen to live music and watch demonstrations of traditional dancing. Eggs, of course, show up in many springtime traditions as symbols of new life and renewal.
In Bulgaria, people celebrate the coming of spring in a more gradual way that follows the slow advance of the season. Friends and family exchange red-and-white bracelets, called Martenitsa (mar-ten-eet-sa), at the beginning of March. These bracelets, usually made of string and often including small doll-shaped figures, are worn until the wearer spots a sign of spring, such as flowers or migrating birds. Then they tie the bracelet to a nearby tree branch. As the season progresses, trees are festooned with red and white decorations. Similar traditions can be found throughout the Balkan peninsula.
How do you celebrate the coming of spring? Do you have rituals you use to mark the season, whether personal, cultural, or with your family or friends? I don’t have a wheel of cheese to roll down a hill, and I’m not going to make it to Mexico this time, but just this week, six daffodils bloomed in a sunny spot in my front yard, and I’ve noticed a patch of violets lifting their little purple blooms toward the light. I think, for my personal, private celebration, I will take a lesson from the optimism of those flowers and look for the sunshine coming my way. Winter is fading, and though it may still give spring a run for its money, the world is, once again, tilting inexorably toward the light. May we all find cause to celebrate.