Each year, seasons come and seasons go. We watch as nature marks the days, weeks, and months with seasonal changes to the air, the sky, and the earth. Winter, in many parts of the world, offers long, cold, and dark days signaling the need for warm fires and comforting food.
It’s no wonder that cultures around the world prepare to celebrate the seasonal transition from the darkness of Winter into the brightness of days in the next season – Spring is arriving!
The Spring Equinox officially marks the end of Winter promising fresh beginnings filled with sun-kissed days, new growth, and a fruitful season. Celebrations are plentiful during this time, and the traditions are longstanding.
Various countries honor the Spring Equinox in their own way based on customs and traditions. To name a few, there is the Holi Festival in India; in Persian culture, there are new year celebrations called Norooz; and, in Japan, there is Shunbun No Hi. Although each celebration is vastly different, they commonly rejoice in a new and prosperous season.
Curious about these unique, cultural celebrations? Read on to find out what the Spring Equinox is and how different cultures around the world celebrate it.
What Is The Spring Equinox?
The Spring Equinox, also known as the Vernal Equinox, marks the first astronomical day of Spring for the Northern Hemisphere. On the same day in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the Autumnal Equinox.
The word “Equinox” translates to “equal night” in Latin, referring to how the day and night are approximately 12 hours each during the Equinox. This is due to the Earth’s axis tilting zero degrees in relation to the Sun which happens twice a year, once in March and once in September.
Each year the date of the Spring Equinox varies slightly, usually falling on either the 19th, 20th, or 21st of March.
Spring Equinox Traditions Worldwide
In many cultures around the world, the Spring Equinox is a significant event and cause for a great celebration including special rituals to make way for Spring and the new energy that comes along with it.
For some cultures, the Spring Equinox coincides with a New Year bringing about lively festivities. For others, it is a time of honoring the past and making room for new beginnings.
There are many similarities within the various celebrations of the Spring Equinox and a number of differences as well. Let’s delve into a few fascinating Spring Equinox celebrations from all around the globe.
India’s Holi Festival
In India, the Spring Equinox is celebrated during a festival called Holi. The festival celebrates various important Hindu legends signifying the triumph of Good over Evil, one of the most popular being the legend of Krishna and Rhada.
In this legend, Krishna is poisoned in his infancy by the Evil Putana, tinting his skin bright blue. After falling in love with Rhada in his adulthood, he was certain she would not love him because of the appearance of his skin. Once confessing his love for her, he proposed a game where she could paint him whichever color she liked. Along with the significance of mending relationships, the link between the colorful paints of Holi and this legend is apparent.
The celebration as a whole lasts two days and brings a tremendous spirit of joy across the country. The festival starts with the lighting of massive bonfires the night before the Spring Equinox, which the public is encouraged to dance around. This tradition stems from another important legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakashipu, where the trickster, Holika, dies in the bonfire while trying to kill King Hiranyakashipu’s innocent Son, Prahlad.
The following day, starting early morning, brightly colored powdered paints are joyfully thrown on each other, friends and strangers alike, along with color-filled water balloons. The day is filled with fun, laughter, and dancing!
This festival makes it onto many bucket lists and is now celebrated in countries around the world, including cities in the UK, Australia, Mauritius, Germany, and the US.
The Persian Norooz
In Persian culture, the Spring Equinox falls directly on the Persian New Year, called Norooz. It is a beloved, exciting time with celebrations and rituals centered around a fresh start, new beginnings with wishes for prosperity, and leaving behind remnants of the past.
The Norooz rituals begin around three weeks before the actual Equinox, starting with a thorough cleaning of one’s home to filter out clutter amongst belongings and to be surrounded in the new year with a healthy and clean space. During this cleansing period, it is common to see countless Persian rugs hanging outside the houses in Iran, ready to have the dust beaten from them.
On one of the last few days of the year, specifically the last Wednesday evening of the year, a celebratory tradition called Chaharshanbeh Soori (“Red Wednesday”) occurs. On this eve, public spaces are lit with bonfires signifying the hope for happiness and enlightenment in the coming year.
Everyone joins the fun as they jump over the fires, sing traditional songs, and exclaim the phrase: “Give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly pallor!” The color red signifies health, beauty and joy while pale yellow signifies negativity, including sickness, pain and sorrow. Kids also roam the streets as they bang loudly on pots and pans, asking for sweets or money.
During the weeks leading up to the big celebration, families collect what is called a “haft-seen” – meaning seven S’s – which are a collection of items and foods that represent positive wishes including freshness, fertility, radiance, and abundance for the new year. Some families also add their own rendition of this into the collection.
The seven most important “haft-seen” items include:
- Sabzeh: A sprout or grass which symbolizes renewal
- Senjed: Sweet dried fruit, symbolizing love
- Sib: Apples, symbolizing health and beauty
- Seer: Garlic, symbolizing medicine and self-care
- Samanu: Pudding which symbolizes wealth and fertility
- Serkeh: Vinegar, symbolizing wisdom and patience
- Sumac: Persian sour, red berry spice symbolizing the new sunrise
Once the day of Norooz finally arrives, a 13-day long celebration ensues including extensive visits and delicious dinners with family and friends. Children are gifted with sweets and money, and presents are shared all around.
After Norooz is over, families visit the nearest body of water to release their Sabzeh (growing sprout or grass) into the water to symbolically rid any negative energy from the home and to make way for lightness in the new year.
The Norooz tradition is ancient and has been cherished and celebrated for nearly 3000 years, as detailed in this fascinating Unesco article.
It continues officially in modern times with the United Nations General Assembly proclaiming the 21st of March, International Norooz Day, since 2010. With annual traditions passed down from generation to generation for the last millenium, Norooz always stays true to the deeper meaning behind the celebrations: gratitude, peace, and solidarity for new beginnings.
England's Druid Gatherings
The Spring Equinox is an important astronomical event for Druids and Wiccans, those who follow earth-based (pagan) wisdom traditions and draw on beliefs following nature adoration. In England, Druid and Wiccan groups gather at Stonehenge to greet the rising sun on the Spring Equinox, which they celebrate as Ostara.
Druids and Wiccans visit Stonehenge before dawn dressed in a mix of robes, natural materials, and staff. During the Spring Equinox, visitors are allowed access to the inner circle of the stones until the sun has risen after which it is restricted again.
After a period of warm greetings and hugs, visitors hold hands, forming a circle, to take a druid’s vow. Gathering in the center of the stones, the groups will then welcome Spring by giving thanks to the east, west, south, and north by raising their hands and turning to each point.
As the sun slowly begins to rise on the east side of the stones, the pagans and druids stand to quietly watch the rising sun and embrace the new light of Spring.
Japan’s Shunbun No Hi
In Japanese culture, the Spring Equinox is celebrated in a very different way compared to other cultures. Although the Vernal Equinox is still celebrated as the coming of Spring, the people of Japan have a special belief around this time.
It is believed that during the equinox, when the day and night are equal lengths, the Buddha appears to help guide lost souls to the afterlife. To honor and aid in this process, Japanese families visit the graves of ancestors and loved ones.
Upon their visit to the gravesites, the families clean the tombstones, leave flowers, offer food, and pay respects. Popular food offerings include a special rice cake covered in bean powder, and saki, a common alcoholic drink in Japan.
All around the world, different cultures express their gratitude and welcome Springtime with celebrations and rituals honoring a new beginning. The Spring Equinox is an annual astronomical event to witness the balance that comes with an equal day and night.
Each culture that celebrates this special day does so in its own unique and honorable way. Let us say goodbye to old patterns, clutter, and dust and make way for a fresh, vibrant new beginning.
If you are planning your Spring Equinox celebrations, why not celebrate in style with a ShopatMAP colorfully embroidered Bahar “Spring” facemask worn with an elegant Samrosa "Beauty" Silk Shawl to keep warm during the festivities. And, if Norooz gift giving is an important tradition in your family, check out ShopatMAP’s unique selection of products, all handcrafted by talented, but struggling artisans from remote corners of the globe.
Each purchase is sure to liven up your Spring Equinox celebration and will extend positive support to artisans and impoverished children alike, so that they too can have an uplifting start to the new year.
Happy Spring Equinox!
Written by ShopatMAP