Spring Equinox Celebrations Around the World
In January, we posted a blog about winter celebrations around the world. Now that spring is in the air, we thought it was time for a post about springtime celebrations around the world! While many people have just celebrated Easter, it is only one of many celebrations relating to the spring equinox. While Americans are painting eggs, Bali Hindus are decorating masks, Zoroastrians are planting seeds, and Japanese Buddhists are honoring their ancestors in personal ways.
Literally translated “to arrive on the Other Shore,” Higan has been celebrated by a large majority of Buddhists in Japan since the Heian period (between 794 and 1190 C.E.). It is celebrated for a week beginning with the spring equinox and offers a time to reflect on one’s efforts toward Nirvana, “the other shore;” an achievement of wisdom that allows reincarnation to cease. Japanese Buddhists also use this time to honor ancestors, particularly those who have recently passed.
Bali’s Hindu calendar begins on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox. This day, Nyepi, is surrounded by days of religious significance intended to return balance to nature. Three days before Nyepi, Melasti is observed. On this day every statue of the gods is ceremonially transferred from its temple to the river to be cleansed by the god Baruna. On the day before Nyepi, Tawur Kesanga, an exorcism, is held by all Bali villages at the main crossroad. Carnival participants don Ogoh-Ogoh masks representative of evil spirits. After song and dance, the masks are lit on fire to rid the evil spirits from the lives of the Balinese. Nyepi is a day of rest, and an extreme silence is enforced by ceremonial street security, “Pecalangs.” The Hindu recognize this day as an opportunity to exercise control over self and spirit. Ngembak Geni is the day following Nyepi, during which the Hindu people offer forgiveness to each other and read from traditional lyrics.
Marking the beginning of the Iranian New Year, Nowruz represents anticipation of growth, particularly agricultural. Though in the fifth century B.C.E. this celebration honored the ruler of Persia, it is now celebrated in Zoroastrian homes in central Asia and the Middle East as a religious holiday. Two weeks prior to Nowruz, families plant seeds and watch them sprout until the celebration on March 21st. The house is thoroughly cleaned and a table is covered with a white table cloth. On the cloth are placed the aforementioned plants, a mirror, the Zoroastrian sacred text, an incense burner, live goldfish, and decorated boiled eggs. A cultural festival takes place celebrating Nowruz, during which dances, games, and traditions are carried out.
This festival, also known as the Pure Brightness Festival, is celebrated April 4th-6th every year in China. It is a time that recognizes both the changing of seasons and honoring of ancestors. Tombs are swept and decorated with gifts of food and flowers. Incense and paper money is burned before the participant bows in front of the grave. On this day spring is observed with tree planting and kite flying. This celebration is especially beautiful at night when kites are flown with small lanterns attached.
This celebration is central to the Christian doctrine as it recognizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his sacrificial death. Easter is recognized as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. Many observers recognize a time of fasting, a period of forty days (representing the time Jesus spent in the desert) that ends on Easter. On this day, a candle-light service often takes place before sunrise. The Christ candle is lit first and is used to light worshipers’ candles. Many Easter traditions have been borrowed from cultural customs that are related to fertility such as the egg and rabbit. Common American practices include decorating and hiding boiled eggs.
There many more worldwide celebrations that you may not have ever heard of, but taking time to learn about just a few more when possible is invaluable to gaining a better understanding of the world. Happy Spring!
Many traditions that are common to some are foreign to others. How do you celebrate the coming of spring?