SPRING CUSTOMS AROUND THE GLOBE
What makes spring special in many places of our world? Why do people look forward to the spring? The whole world (or, at least, the entire Northern Hemisphere) is celebrating the return of spring. Spring time is the ideal time for festivals: just as the winter goes away and nature comes back to life. Spring is the time for rebirth and renewal. In early spring, frost may still rime the windows in the morning, but we can feel the promise of a new season in each passing day. Almost imperceptibly, the sun warms, the day lengthens, and the air seems pure and thin as it takes on the scent of freshly turned soil, emerging green and soft rains. Spring is a time of awakening, of healing and renewal, of the dawning and planting of new ideas. The world seems young and virgin again. Here are just some of the many fascinating facts that I have found.
In March, spring is official no matter what the weather report says. It arrives this year at 1:46 a.m. on March 21 (8:46 p.m. EST on March 20). That’s the vernal equinox, the time that the sun crosses the Earth’s equator from south to north and one of only two times in the year when day and night are equal in length. (The vernal equinox doesn’t fall on the same day every year because the length of the calendar year doesn’t quite correspond with that of the solar year; the first day of spring varies from March 19 to March 21.)
In earlier times, the vernal equinox was considered the beginning of the New Year. It has always been an important day to those who work the land because it signifies the beginning of the season of regeneration and growth. We can empathize with the ancients’ joy at the resurrection of the sun god from the underworld. It’s spring! Folklore has it that the vernal equinox is the only day of the year when an egg can be stood on its end. Even though that’s not true, we can admire the imagery. Eggs are, in fact, nature’s perfect symbol for springtime and new beginnings. In March, when life is quickening in its seemingly miraculous annual way, we can’t help but ponder the cosmic egg of creation. Our newly hatched world is green, new, fresh, and as innocent as the dawn.
As spring reaches those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the world is beginning anew. The spring rains are bringing forth new growth all around us, and the temperature is finally creeping warmer virtually every day. It’s no wonder that Spring is considered to be a prime time for celebration throughout the world.
Clover and other three-leaved plants were once considered spring gifts from the fairies to protect us and bring luck. Other herbs that have been associated with spring rituals through history include vervain, a sacred herb for witches that supposedly ensured wealth, love, and protection; honeysuckle, for vision and inspiration; and broom, which was burned to purify homes and protect their inhabitants.
Today, as we watch the season unfold, we’re apt to bring pussy willow or forsythia branches indoors to open their flowers in the warmth. We look for the early bulbs, whose bright color is so welcome after the drab dormancy of winter. We search out the new shoots of chives and chervil and other early risers to bring a touch of freshness to salads and cooked vegetables.
Like animals coming out of hibernation, we find new energy in this season of promise. We launch spring-cleaning projects. We shed our heavy coats and dark clothes to enjoy the occasional warm days of early spring. Many begin the satisfying ritual of sprouting seeds under lights in the basement or in a sunny window. Germinating seeds of favorite herbs is a wonderful way to experience spring before it actually arrives. It lets us plunge our hands into moist potting soil, so enjoy the process of seeds’ sprouting, then growing into little plants that we can nurture along and begin a relationship with.
This time of year brings the Chinese celebration of Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese Lunar New Year. Chinese people often put up long rolls of red paper with black writing and pictures of fierce-looking creatures on either side of their front door. The red paper rolls usually contain lines of poetry transcribed by a calligrapher and the Gods Shen Tu and Yu Lei, who are believed to protect people from devils and evil spirits
The spring Pakistani festival of Basant is held in the ancient eastern city of Lahore. This festival is marked by a litany of kite-flying, rooftop soirees, garden parties and equestrian events. Locals and tourists alike don glamorous clothes, in the yellow and green of spring flowers blooming citywide, to bid farewell to the frosts and fogs of winter and usher in spring.
In Germany, the celebration of Walpurgisnacht on April 30th and May 1st celebrates the release of winter’s hold on the land and the oncoming joy of summer. Children celebrate in a similar fashion to Halloween, playing pranks on unsuspecting victims as midnight draws near. Many people hold witches’ fires to ward off the evil spirits of winter. And on May 1st, it is believed that the earth spirits like sprites and fairies emerge to bring the land safely to summer. People celebrate with great feasts of food and drink as the look forward to the coming of summer.
During the times of ancient Rome, spring was fêted with the Feast of Floralia. This celebration marked the flowering of the grains and the bounty of the animals as spring continued. It’s actually believed that the egg became an important symbol during this time period, as it noted both the egg that brought forth life and the egg that nourished people. As this festival evolved, people began creating eggs out of many materials, including chocolate, as gifts for their loved ones. Young matrons carried these eggs with them in baskets throughout the Spring, trying to determine the possible gender of a future child.
In the British Isles, many people celebrate the Festival of Beltane on May Day. Lighting fires was customary at this time, and traditionally a Beltane fire (very similar to the witches’ fires of Germany) was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. When daylight comes, people celebrate by dancing and singing around a maypole tied with colorful streamers or ribbons.
Easter – Throughout the Christian world, Easter is the most important spring holiday. Although the significance of Easter is mainly religious, one can’t neglect that, in addition to being a reminder of the day when Jesus Christ resurrected, Easter is also an occasion to celebrate spring. Easter is associated with the most beautiful and unique traditions, from coloring eggs and cooking the delicious Easter pie, to making gifts and throwing water on women. In Spain, the Semana Santa (the Easter Week) has a special significance: the events and processions that take place in Seville are probably the most famous. Here, the religious brotherhoods are walking on the city’s streets and carrying huge religious sculptures, named pasos. In Washington, DC on Easter Monday is the annual Easter Egg roll on the White House Lawn. In ancient Egypt and Persia, where spring was celebrated as the beginning of the year, decorated eggs were exchanged at the equinox, eggs being the universal symbol of creation and fertility. In England, a royal household record from 1290 indicates that King Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be dyed or gilded for Easter gifts. Polish legends tell of miracles. One has the Virgin Mary delivering eggs to the soldiers at the cross, begging them to be kind; as she wept, her tears fell on the eggs and spotted them with brilliant color. Another maintains that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, she brought along eggs with her for a meal; when she arrived and uncovered the eggs, the white shells had taken on the colors of the rainbow.
Passover – One of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, Passover commemorates the story of the ancient Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt – items on this “Seder plate” showcase symbolic foods related to the story. The weeklong holiday always falls during the spring season, based on a biblical commandment: “Guard the month of spring, and make then the Passover offering.”
St. Patrick’s Day – Initially a religious holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day is now celebrated all over the world. Whether this holiday’s popularity has anything to do with the invasion of Irish pubs, or it is just the Irish taking their traditions everywhere they go, one thing is for sure, it is worth attending the noisy parade, tasting a slice of soda bread and wearing something green.
Indian Spring Festival – In India, each region and ethnic group has its own way of welcoming spring time. But one of the biggest and most colorful spring festival in the country remains the Holi, which usually takes place in late March. During the Holi, people are trying to let their senses loose, charge with positive energy, dance on drum rhythms and eat homemade cookies named Goojhas.
Takayama Spring Festival – Takayama Spring Festival is among the most popular festivals in Japan. The festival takes place in the picturesque city of Takayama, in the Gifu prefecture. The biggest attractions are the Shinto music and dance representations, together with the parade of the huge floats (each float is actually a stage for puppet theater representations – the region is famous for its traditional crafts and hand-made puppets). In case you have other plans this spring, you could also go to Takayama during autumn, as the festival takes place two times a year.
St. Petersburg White Nights Festival – Visiting the splendid city of St. Petersburg might prove to be the most inspired idea you had in years. This is the time when daytime starts reaching incredible durations, marking the beginning of the White Nights, a period when St. Petersburg nightlife and cultural activity are reaching their climax. The white nights are not only called this way because the sun doesn’t set, but also because visitors and locals refuse to sleep. On the 27th of May, the city’s day, the streets will be filled by the sound of military orchestras and colorful parades
Walpurgis Night – Named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga, this traditional spring festival is celebrated across Central and Northern Europe — exactly 6 months after All Hallows’ Eve. Among the places that hold celebrations (which include dancing and bonfires) is the open-air museum of Skansen in Stockholm.
Las Fallas – Whimsical characters, known as fallas, are a familiar sight during this annual 5-day celebration. The origin of one of Spain’s most rowdy holidays is uncertain; some say Las Fallas began in the Middle Ages, when artisans burned pieces of wood they’d saved during the winter in celebration of the spring equinox. Over time, under the Catholic Church’s influence, the holiday has developed into a celebration to commemorate Saint Joseph.
May Day never was celebrated as much in the United States as it is in Great Britain because of the Puritans’ discouragement of the day as a pagan holiday. However, many American communities still celebrate this time with May queens and the hanging of May baskets filled with flowers and chocolates on the doorknobs of friends and family.
One spring ritual that always graces the news in the United States is the blooming of the cherry trees in Washington D.C. These beautiful trees that line the Tidal Basin in the capital of the United States were a gift from Japan over 100 years ago and bloom every spring and bring with them a site that every American should see at least once, a sweet smell to the air that not even modern pollution can dim, and a warmth of the knowledge that spring has indeed arrived. The blooming of these trees is always eagerly awaited by both locals and tourists alike, and the few benches along the route are often taken in the wee hours of the morning by sightseers waking up with a bit of coffee or hot chocolate from a vending cart.