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Spring Equinox Celebrations

Mexican, Japanese and Persian Spring Equinox Celebrations Welcome
Light and Renewal

By Karen Pierce Gonzalez ‘Queen of Folklore,' publisher of Folk Heart Press and author of ‘Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories’


Spring is one of the most festive times of year. People come out of their winter hovels eager to take part in outdoor life again. They take delight in the promises that spring brings with it. This time of light after darkness has often been associated with newness and was, according to the Roman calendar, considered to be the start of the new year.


The spring equinox – one of four solar seasons – is related to dawn, youth and the morning star. According to School of the Seasons, it is also affiliated with the east: The Saxon goddess, Eostre (from whose name we get the direction East and the holiday Easter) is a dawn goddess, like Aurora and Eos. Just as the dawn is the time of new light, so the spring equinox is the time of new life.


Since the beginning of recorded time cultures around the world have developed a range of spring equinox celebrations that take place anywhere between mid-March and April, dependent upon the calendar that is being use. Here are some examples from Mexico, Japan and the Middle East.


El Castillo (The Castle)

Thousands of people gather to see the equinox phenomenon that occurs twice each year (spring and fall) at “ the castle” that looms at the center of Chichén Itzá, a 79-foot pyramid of stone. Also known as the Pyramid of Kukulkán, the structure embodies Mayan myth along with natural astronomical cycles.


As the equinox sun sets, a play of light and shadow creates the appearance of a snake that gradually undulates down the stairway of the pyramid. This diamond-backed snake is composed of seven or so triangular shadows, cast by the stepped terraces of the pyramid. The sinking sun seems to give life to the sinuous shadows, which make a decidedly snaky pattern on their way down the stairs.


It is believed that the ancient Maya may have used this structure as, among other things, a calendar to signal appropriate times to plant, harvest, and perform ceremonies.


Shunbun no Hi / Higan no Chu-Nichi (Vernal Equinox Day)  

Like Fall Equinox, the spring equinox is one of the most traditional Japanese National Holidays. It is both a celebration of seasonal change typical of an agricultural society: this is the day when the day-time and the night-time are equal length and it is a time for many Japanese to visit their family tombs to pay their respects to their ancestors.


People weed their family tombs, and leave flowers, incense and ohagi (sweet rice balls covered with red bean paste).


The Japanese consider this period the changing of the season, because it is usually around Higan that the cold front hanging over the Japanese islands weakens, and the weather changes to spring.


Nowruz (New Day)

The first day of spring marks the beginning of the Persian New Year. The celebration lasts 13 days and is rooted in the 3,000-year-old tradition of Zorastrianism. It is celebrated and observed by Iranian peoples and others in the Middle East and has spread to many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some ethnic groups in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia.


Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar and is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, the same time is celebrated in the Indian sub-continent as the new year. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals, clean out their homes, enjoy large festive meals and gift exchanges and often wear new clothing.


The spring equinox is clearly a magical time of year that has its roots in many other cultural and religious celebrations including Purim, Passover and Easter. All of the festivities and gatherings highlight a shared awe and wonder about the life cycle that appears on many levels to be endless.


It is this hope and faith in the continuation of life that people might be most drawn to. Spring, in essence, is a treasured response to the sometimes bitter, end of life call of Winter.






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