After a long, cold winter it’s such a joy to see the colorful buds of crocuses, daffodils, and tulips peak out of the earth. As the weather warms up, the sun’s heat and energy seem to penetrate our skin and infuse us with life and vitality. It’s no wonder that people across the globe have celebrated the coming of spring with boisterous revelry for millennia.
The vernal or spring equinox occurs around March 21st and is the moment at which the center of the visible sun is directly above the equator. Marking the first official day of spring in the northern hemisphere, the equinox is when daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration. As a matter of fact, the word equinox comes from the Latin “aequus,” meaning equal, and “nox,” meaning night.
The first day of spring was so important to most cultures, that many considered it the first day of the year. One thing is for sure, pretty much everyone on the planet celebrates the arrival of spring, and here are some fun examples of how they do it.
Known as the festival of colors, Holi is unquestionably the most vibrantly colorful spring festival in the world. It’s when Hindus in India and Nepal take to the streets to throw colored powder at each other, amidst loud music and drumming, in honor of the season’s multiple hues and stories in Hindu mythology. The prismatic partying takes place over two days in praise of fertility, color, love, and the triumph of good over evil.
The Dionysus festival was one of the most important events of the year in ancient Greece. Dionysus, god of fertility, wine, theater, and rebirth, was honored every spring with feasts, drinking, and general over-the-top merrymaking. Most Greek plays were written to be performed at the spring feast of Dionysus, and all participants including the writers, actors, and spectators, were regarded as sacred servants of the god during the festival.
In Thailand, every spring equinox finds the locals reaching for their cannon-sized water guns, buckets, pressure hoses, or any other creative way to drench their neighbors in water. Based on the Sanskrit word for “astrological passage,” Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year, and more widely known as the spring water festival. Festivities last for days and involve going to a Buddhist monastery, visiting elders, dancing in the streets to loud music, and, of course, throwing copious amounts of water at each other.
People across the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan, have been celebrating Nowruz since ancient times. The term Nowruz means “new day,” and marks the first day of spring and the new year, as well as a time of hope and renewal. Rooted in the beliefs of ancient Zoroastrianism, the festival encourages peace and harmony between generations and within families, and people celebrate by going out for a picnic or other family activity. A lot of spring cleaning also happens during this time, old broken items are repaired, homes are repainted, and fresh flowers are gathered and displayed indoors.
SHUNBUN NO HI
In Japan, the spring equinox is celebrated with Shunbun no hi, when many people head to their hometowns, have family reunions, and visit the graves of their ancestors. According to ancient Buddhist tradition, in order to help their ancestors make the crossing from this life to the next, family members visit the cemetery to pray, weed graves, wash tombstones, light incense and leave flowers.
MEXICAN PYRAMID CELEBRATIONS
The ancient Mayans had an astonishing level of astronomical knowledge that is on full display at the archeological site of Chichen Itza every vernal equinox. The temple of Kukulkan, also called the El Castillo pyramid, is where thousands of people gather to see the “Return of the Sun Serpent.” Every equinox, the sun casts a shadow over the pyramid that looks like an enormous snake moving down the pyramid.
The archaeological site of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is another popular locale to celebrate the spring equinox. Hundreds of thousands of visitors, many dressed in traditional white clothes, climb the 360 steps to the top of the enormous Pyramid of the Sun. There they stretch out their arms to bask in the sun and absorb the special energy that rains down on them on the first day of spring.