Spring is widely celebrated as a time of renewal or rebirth. Buds begin to appear on the trees, new green shoots sprout from the ground, the crocuses are croaking and the bears come out of hibernation.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Spring begins at or around the March (Vernal) Equinox. Many religious and cultural celebrations occur at this time of year.
Vesākha or Wesak is an annual holiday observed by Buddhists in South East Asia. Sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”, it actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment, and passing on of Gautama Buddha, the most important figure in Buddhism. It is said that Wesak is that time at the Full Moon of Taurus in which the Christ gathers the entire Spiritual Hierarchy together in meditation to invoke the forces of Shambhalla. The Buddha, representing those forces, appears and blesses humanity.
The Festival of the Christ follows one month after Wesak at the time of the full moon of Gemini. It has the keynote of “humanity, aspiring to God” and blending many different spiritual approaches in one united act of invocation. It has been observed since 1952 as World Invocation Day. (For a more complete description of Wesak and the Christ Festival see this article, and join us for the May 15, 2011 Celebration at the Ramapo College Salameno Spritual Center.)
Tamil and Bengali people, and in the Indian states of Kerala and Orissa, New Years follows the Hindu zodiac and is celebrated according to the sidereal vernal equinox (April 14). Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharastra people celebrate New Year Ugadi as set by Satavahana on the first morning after first new moon from the March equinox. It is known as ‘Vishu’ and ‘Vishuva Sankranti’ (meaning “equal” in Sanskrit).
Chinese New Year, often called Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is an all East and South-East-Asia celebration. In China it is known as “Spring Festival,” the literal translation of the Chinese name 春节 (Pinyin: Chūn Jié). It marks the end of the winter season. The festival begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese: 正月; pinyin: Zhēng Yuè) in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day. Chinese New Year’s Eve, a day where families gather for their annual reunion dinner, is known as Chú Xī (除夕) or “Eve of the Passing Year.”
In Japan, March Equinox Day (春分の日 Shunbun no hi) is an official national holiday, and is spent visiting family graves and holding family reunions.
The Near East
The March equinox marks the first day of various calendars including the Iranian calendar. The ancient Iranian new year’s festival of Nowruz can be celebrated on March 20 or March 21. These festivities recall the story of creation and the ancient cosmology of Iranian and Persian people and the ascension to the throne by Jamshid, the mythological king of Persia. It is also a holiday for Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Albania, and various countries of Central Asia, as well as among the Kurds. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents of the Bahá’í Faith and the Nizari Ismaili Muslims.
Sham El Nessim was an ancient Egyptian holiday which can be traced back as far as 2700 B.C. It is still one of the public holidays in Egypt. Sometime during Egypt’s Christian period (c. 200-639) the date moved to Easter Monday, but before then it coincided with the equinox.
In many Arab countries, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the March equinox.
The Abrahamic Tradition
The Jewish Passover usually falls on the first full moon after the March equinox, although occasionally (7 times every 19 years) it will occur on the second full moon. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Christians typically celebrate this resurrection on Easter Day, calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March equinox. Since the Eastern Orthodox Churches use the older Julian calendar, while the Western Churches use the Gregorian calendar, the actual date of Easter differs. The earliest possible Easter date in any year is therefore March 22 on each calendar. The latest possible Easter date in any year is April 25.
In Norse paganism, a Dísablót was celebrated on the vernal equinox, which was held in honor of the female spirits or deities, from pre-historic times until Christianization in Scandinavia. Its purpose was to enhance the coming harvest.
Wiccans and many other Neopagans hold religious celebrations of “Ostara” on the Spring equinox. It is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere around March 21, depending upon the specific timing of the equinox. The name Ostara may be related to the word for “east” and has been connected to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. In terms of Wiccan ditheism, this festival is characterized by the rejoining of the Mother Goddess and her lover-consort, who spent the winter months in death. Other variations include the young God regaining strength in his youth after being born at Yule, and the Goddess returning to her Maiden aspect.
World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling, celebrated every year on the March equinox world over, as is World Citizen Day and World Invocation Day.
Earth Day was initially celebrated on March 21, 1970, the equinox day. It is currently celebrated in various countries on April 22.