The Spiritual History of Spring and Global Spring Equinox Celebrations
For thousands of years, many traditions, and our own ancestors, have celebrated Spring Equinox as a time of fertility, rebirth of life and energy – which is why today we find many traditional religious celebrations at this time - from St. Patricks Day to Easter and Passover, and Persian New Year. The Spring Equinox brings all of us on Earth a balance of day and night because the sun is sitting on the Earth's equator. The word equinox comes from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).
Today Spring Equinox is still one of the most anticipated and celebrated times of the year around the globe. From it's Pagan Roots in the West to global festivals in the East, here's how our planet celebrates.
Easter's Pagan Roots:
Easter began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity. As Christianity began to sweep across Europe, many pagan festivals and traditions were absorbed and adapted into the Christian faith, including Easter. It made sense for speedy conversion of the masses to Christianity that the already ingrained traditions and celebrations, (including the concept of new life being celebrated during springtime) should become associated with Jesus conquering death and being reborn.
In the first couple of centuries after Jesus's life, feast days in the new Christian church were attached to pagan festivals. Spring festivals with the theme of new life and relief from the cold of winter became connected explicitly to Jesus having conquered death by being resurrected after the crucifixion.
A Moveable Feast
If you’ve noticed, the date of Easter changes every year and this is because it is governed by the phases of the moon and not a specific date on which Christ was said to have risen from the dead. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox making it a celebration of the seasons, a concept rooted in paganism. In 325AD the first major church council, the Council of Nicaea, determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. That is why the date moves and why Easter festivities are often referred to as "moveable feasts."
Easter comes from the root Eostre or Eastre, or Ostara - a pagan celebratory festival but also the ancient Germanic goddess of the spring. Eostre was a goddess of spring or renewal and that's why her feast is attached to the vernal equinox. In Germany, Easter is called Ostern.
Ostara was the goddess of fertility, and is often depicted with hares and eggs, which translated into the symbolism of our modern celebrations. Eggs, like the rabbits, have been symbols of new life and fertility in many cultures since ancient times. As Christianity absorbed pagan spring traditions, the egg was also adapted to become the perfect representation of Jesus’ resurrection; the eggshell symbolizing the tomb, while the cracking of it representing Jesus’ emergence; life-conquering death.
The ritual of decorating eggs is believed to have originated in modern day Ukraine. Pysanka (писанка, plural: pysanky) is an Ukranian Easter egg, typically decorated with traditional folk designs, and ceramic pre-historic Pysanka are on display at the Met. Pysanky almost died out in Ukraine when the country was occupied by the Soviet Union & the custom was banished. After Ukrainian Independence in 1991, pysanky experienced a rebirth.
The first laid eggs of young hens are used as they are smooth & have a good shape, & only fertilized eggs were used in tradition. Pysanky are be dyed using plants and the dyes are often prepared in secret. The tradition includes that mothers pass on their knowledge to their daughters. The decorating of the pysanky was also done in secret after the children had gone to bed. The women of the family would gather in the night, say the appropriate prayers & then begin decorating.
There are many folk traditions & superstitions surrounding pysanky that have also evolved throughout time. The symbolism used is specific & can ward off evil spirits, bring good luck, protect the household, bring fertility, or ensure a good harvest. After 988 when Christianity became the state religion of Ukraine, many of the traditional pagan symbols were reinterpreted in a Christian bend, that has continued to this day. The different symbols vary greatly from village to village, as do their meaning.
Holi – Northern India
Undoubtedly one of the most colorful festivals in the world, Holi is celebrated by Hindus across Northern India. Holi represents the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. It involves throwing colored powder at one another, which pays tribute to the many hues of the spring season as well as events from Hindu mythology. Usually lasting a full day and night, the festival is a colorful and joyful celebration of the end of winter and the spring growing season.
Meanwhile, In South America:
The Mayans were very aware of the power of the Spring Equinox, and left us a phenomenal display of both their architectural and astronomical knowledge at the Chichen Itza pyramid, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Every year on the spring equinox, thousands visit the site to view the light of the sun making a play of light and shadow on its stairs, which creates the effect of a serpent slithering down the pyramid during a four-hour time span on this day. The vision is of a serpent god Kukulkan, the most important deity of the Mayas, who descends slowly from the top to the bottom of the pyramid. This view is approximately 30 to 40 minutes, moment when all gathered there waiting to receive cosmic energy and recharge it.
Nowruz – Central Asia
Nowruz means No (new) and rouz (day). Celebrated as the first day of the first month of the Iranian calendar and coinciding with the spring equinox (usually around March 21st), this “new day” symbolizes new life, new beginnings, and the rebirth of nature. While it differs country to country, the multi-day celebration often starts with people cleaning their homes but quickly escalates into a multi-day festival of bonfires, costumes, and family remembrance, until the 13th day of the New Year when everybody leaves their homes and joins friends and family members outside for music, dancing, and food in the cities’ public spaces.Spring's Worm Moon
Native tribes in the northern and eastern U.S. named the full moon after the earthworm casts — fertilizer produced by the worms — that appear as the ground thaws ahead of spring. The earth is thawing, the wind is warming, and our living Earth is stirring from within. At this time of the year, the ground begins to soften enough for earthworm casts to reappear, inviting robins and other birds to feed — a true sign of spring.
Astrologers point to the spring equinox as a special day, as it's the first day of spring, the first day of Aries season and the first day of the astrological new year. It's a time of renewed energy, motivation and outward focus, so reach out to friends and start putting a fire under your personal goals.
It is also a time of hope and optimism, of renewed confidence that life will go on with good times to come but this year is especially energizing because Aries is all about new beginnings and a new sense of identity. Aries are said to be the explorers and heroes of the Zodiac, and it’s said we should experience an awakened sense of ourselves. And if that weren’t enough, a reduction in the Earth's magnetic field makes it easier to release old patterns and awaken new ones -- clearly this is the day to think about your higher purpose, and the year to become our own heroes and explorers!