Significance of the Spring Equinox

With spring in the air, many of our thoughts turn to new beginnings, and, for Christians, to Easter. However, the coming of spring has been celebrated for millennia with ritual and thanksgiving. And, in many cultures, the spring equinox represented the beginning of the year — and a celebration of new life.

What is the Spring Equinox?

Today, in Western culture, we view the spring equinox as the first day of spring. It usually falls sometime around March 21. In 2012, the spring equinox falls on March 20. The equinox marks one of the two times of the year that the hours of daylight equal the hours of night. This happens in spring and in autumn. From now until the summer solstice, the days will get longer, culminating in the solstice (June 20 in 2012), which is the longest day of the year.

Cultures around the world recognize this day, and the ancients even created calendars that included the important dates of the year. The Mayan civilization marked the spring equinox, Stonehenge was built to incorporate it, and cultures around the globe have long celebrated the return of light and life to the world. Traditionally, this time of the year has been one of fertility, and one of new beginnings.

How is the Vernal Equinox Observed?

Even though many of us in the West are unfamiliar with any particular observance of the spring equinox, there are plenty of observations and rituals that center around the first day of spring. Here are some of the traditions surrounding the vernal equinox:

  • Ostara: This is the name given to the spring equinox by many practitioners of Wicca, as well as some other pagans. This is one of the sabbats on the Wiccan calendar, and there are a number of rituals and observances that can be performed at this time. In ancient times, Ostara was thought to be a Germanic fertility goddess, and her mating with the solar god during this time of year resulted in the birth of a child born at Yule time.
  • No-Ruz: Dating back from pre-Islamic times in the area encompassed by Iran, No-Ruz marks the start of the New Year. This holiday is approximately 12 days long, and the equinox falls within this time period. A great deal of preparation is made ahead of time, including cleaning the home thoroughly, buying new clothes, and grown shoots in a flat dish. It is considered a secular holiday, and is celebrated in a number of countries in central Asia, as well as in Turkey, Albania, other places where Zoroastrianism held sway.
  • Higan: Japanese Buddhists observe this during the spring equinox and the fall equinox. It includes a week of specific services, and each equinox is marked as a national holiday in Japan. The significance involves the spiritual attainment of Nirvana.
  • Return of the Sun Serpent: In Mayan culture, the afternoon sun lights up an ancient ceremonial pyramid on the spring equinox, giving the illusion of a huge serpent. The “return” of the serpent is observed each year.

Plenty of other cultures, from the ancient Romans and Saxons, to Native Americans, to those practicing the Bahai’i faith and Jewish faith (Passover), have traditions that take place on or near the time of the spring equinox.

Even if you don’t have any specific traditions associated with the spring equinox, you can still enjoy the season. Prepare your garden for planting, or simply observe the new buds beginning to appear on the plants. It’s a great time for refreshment of the body and soul.


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