The Spring Equinox has many names in Different Traditions
As winter gives way to spring, the arrival of the Spring Equinox brings new beginnings, growth, and renewal. This time of year has been celebrated and revered by many different cultures and traditions throughout history. From druidic and pagan festivals to religious observances and spiritual ceremonies, the Spring Equinox is a time of significance for people all over the world.
One such celebration is Alban Eilir, a Druidic festival that marks the Spring Equinox. Its name means “Light of the Earth” in Welsh and is celebrated by modern pagan traditions influenced by the British Isles. Alban Eilir recognizes the balance between light and darkness, male and female, and the inner and outer aspects of the self. It is a time of renewal, growth, and the reawakening of nature after the long, dark winter. Rituals and ceremonies honour the changing of seasons, planting of seeds, lighting candles, and creating altars or shrines to represent the balance of light and dark. The goddess Eostre is also celebrated during this time as a representation of fertility, growth, and the coming of spring.
Paganism recognizes the Spring Equinox with Ostara, a festival named after the Germanic goddess Eostre, who is associated with the dawn and springtime. Eostre is celebrated with rituals and ceremonies that focus on rebirth, renewal, and the awakening of nature. Such practices may include the lighting of candles or bonfires, offering of flowers or other gifts, and recitation of prayers or invocations. Eostre is the namesake of the Christian holiday of Easter, which is celebrated around the same time as the Spring Equinox and honours the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Naw Ruz and Nowruz
Naw Ruz, celebrated on the Spring Equinox, is the Baha’i New Year, a time for renewal, reflection, and celebrating the beginning of a new year. Nowruz, on the other hand, is a Persian holiday that celebrates the beginning of spring and the Persian New Year. It is celebrated by cleaning and decorating homes, visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts, and preparing and sharing traditional foods. The holiday also represents a time for spiritual renewal and reflection as well as the celebration of nature and the coming of spring. Although the name “Naw Ruz” is specific to Persian and Iranian culture, Nowruz is also celebrated in other countries that were historically part of the Persian Empire, such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Buddhists celebrate Higan during the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes as a time for reflection, meditation, and honouring ancestors. During Higan, followers contemplate the transient nature of life and the ultimate goal of achieving enlightenment.
Higan (彼岸, lit. “distant shore”) is exclusively celebrated by Japanese sects for seven days; three days before and after both the Spring equinox (shunbun) and Autumnal equinox (shūbun). It is observed by nearly every Buddhist school in Japan.
Easter is a Christian holiday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it is often associated with the Spring Equinox, Easter does not always fall on March 21st. The date of Easter is determined by the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is known as the “ecclesiastical” or “paschal” full moon. The Church then sets the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the paschal full moon. This means that Easter can fall anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th. The reason for this floating date is that it is based on the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar.
The decision to make Easter a floating date was made by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The Council established a formula to determine the date of Easter, which was designed to ensure that it would always fall after the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. By tying Easter to the lunar calendar, the Council hoped to preserve the Christian celebration of the resurrection while also maintaining a connection to the Jewish roots of Christianity.
The way Easter is celebrated varies from country to country and from region to region. Here are some examples:
- Easter Eggs and Bunnies: In many European countries, Easter is associated with Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. Children often decorate eggs and participate in egg hunts. In some countries, such as Germany, the Easter bunny is said to bring eggs and candy to children.
- Church Services: Easter is a religious holiday, so attending church services is a common way to celebrate in many European countries. In Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, there are often processions and parades.
- Feasting: Easter is also a time for feasting in many European countries. In the UK, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries, a traditional Easter meal is roast lamb with vegetables. In Greece, Easter is celebrated with a special soup called magiritsa, and a lamb roast called kokoretsi.
- Public Holidays: Many European countries, including the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, have public holidays for Easter. This means that schools and businesses are closed, and people have time off work to celebrate with their families and friends.
- Bonfires: In some European countries, such as Finland and Sweden, Easter is celebrated with bonfires. These bonfires are often lit on Easter Saturday, and people gather around them to sing and dance.
- Easter Markets: In some cities, such as Vienna and Prague, Easter markets are held in the weeks leading up to Easter. These markets sell Easter decorations, crafts, and traditional food and drink.
There is some speculation that the Christian church deliberately chose to celebrate Easter around the same time as the pagan spring equinox festivals in order to help convert pagans to Christianity. However, this theory is largely debated and lacks strong evidence.
It is also worth noting that the spring equinox celebrations of pagan religions varied widely, and not all were necessarily tied to fertility and rebirth. Therefore, it is unlikely that Easter was specifically chosen to replace a single pagan equinox practice.
Passover is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar, and it typically falls in late March or early April, around the time of the Spring Equinox. The holiday commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt and their journey towards the Promised Land.
During the holiday, Jews around the world gather for a special meal called a Seder, which involves the retelling of the story of the Exodus, the eating of symbolic foods, and the recitation of prayers and blessings. Passover is also a time for deep spiritual reflection, and for many Jews it represents a time of renewal and rebirth.
In addition to these specific celebrations, the Spring Equinox is a time when many people of various faiths and traditions engage in practices and rituals that celebrate the changing of the seasons and the renewal of the earth. From planting seeds and tending gardens to lighting candles and offering prayers, the Spring Equinox is a time when people come together to honour the cycle of life and the power of renewal.
The Indigenous Spring Equinox Celebration
The Spring Equinox holds significant meaning for numerous indigenous cultures worldwide, symbolizing renewal and new beginnings as the Earth awakens from its winter slumber. To honour this occasion, indigenous communities often perform ceremonies and rituals that vary depending on their respective cultures and traditions. Typically, these celebrations feature dancing, drumming, singing, and prayers, paying homage to the Earth and the re-emergence of life.
Chichén Itzá during the Mayan Spring Equinox
The Mayan people in Central America observe the Spring Equinox with a unique ceremony held at the Chichén Itzá temple. During this ceremony, the Sun casts a shadow on the temple steps that remarkably resembles a serpent, symbolizing the return of the Mayan god, Kukulkan. As the sun sets on the day of the equinox, the shadow begins to move down the steps of the pyramid until it reaches the base, where it meets a stone sculpture of a serpent’s head. The effect is meant to represent the return of the Mayan god Kukulkan, who was often depicted as a serpent
Similarly, the Aboriginal people in Australia celebrate the Dreamtime ceremony during the Spring Equinox, commemorating the Earth’s creation and the start of life. This ceremony involves singing, dancing, and storytelling to share cultural traditions and beliefs passed down through generations.
These are just a few examples of the diverse indigenous ceremonies and rituals held during the Spring Equinox, each with its unique customs and beliefs. However, they all share a common theme of reverence and respect for the Earth and the cyclical patterns of nature.
Overall, the Spring Equinox is a time of balance, renewal, and growth. Whether you celebrate Alban Eilir, Ostara, Naw Ruz and Nowruz, Higan, Easter, Passover, or any other holiday or tradition associated with this time of year, it is a time to embrace the energy of the season and to welcome the return of light and warmth after the long, dark winter.