Celebrate Spring! Equinox Is Here

Regular readers of this blog know that I like to acknowledge the changing of the seasons with a Wheel of the Year post.

But Spring Equinox crept up on me this year! I thought it was closer to the New Moon (this Thursday.) But guess what? Today is the first day of Spring! (In the northern hemisphere of course – sorry to all of you down under who are now welcoming in the colder weather.)

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Vernal Equinox officially occurred Tuesday, March 20 at 1:14 a.m. EDT. (Wait! Does that mean it was last night her in California?? Hmm, I guess so.)

This winter has been so mild in many part of the world, it seems just downright weird that it’s already spring. But it’s quite possible that Winter might not have fully released her hold yet. We’ll hold our breath and see about that snow! We got some around here on the surrounding mountain tops, and I have a feeling we’re in for more.

But – the daylight lasting longer each evening, and the sunrise arriving earlier each morning, tells us that Spring has indeed arrived,  and that sunny, warm summer days await.

Want to know a little more about how people celebrated the Equinox in times of yore? Read on. Below is a (slightly edited) article I wrote several years back for our local newspaper.

Have you noticed how much earlier the sun is coming up? This morning at around five thirty, the eastern sky already glowed a red gold, reminding me how quickly we are approaching the first official day of Spring!

The signs of nature’s awakening are everywhere. How can we not feel the magic when the frogs are croaking their love songs from the puddles outside the window? When tiny robins strut and peck their way through the yards, and the garden and grassy fields sprout with tiny shoots and buds? Spring is already bursting forth in glorious splendor, like a sweet aria sung at the top of Mother Nature’s lungs. It lures us to shuck our coats and jackets, don shorts and T-shirts, and frolic outside in the (almost) balmy breezes.

Also known as the Vernal Equinox, this day marks the third celebration day (or Sabat) in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. As I’ve noted in previous posts, Pagans celebrate the cyclic flow of the year at eight points during the year’s cycle, beginning at the Winter Solstice and traveling through the Equinoxes and four “cross-quarter” days.

It seems like we barely finished celebrating Imbolc (also called Candlemas or Groundhog’s Day) and here we are welcoming the Equinox. Of course these eight holidays span many more religions as well, and versions of them have been celebrated in Ancient Rome as well as in the Pre-Columbian Americas.

Here in the northern hemisphere, the Spring Equinox has always been a time of great joy and celebration. Even today, when we have electric lights and packaged foods, there is a sense of renewal at this time of year, when the days noticeably lengthen and we can feel the growing warmth of the sun.

In ancient times, this season was vitally important. Crops could be planted, animals gave birth, the sun warmed the frozen earth, and winter food stores no longer needed to be rationed.

Because of the importance of spring to human survival, there has always been religious mythology, both Christian and Pagan, to explain the change of seasons. The tales usually revolve around a god or goddess descending into the underworld or some sort of crypt, where they spend three days before returning.

Some think that the theory of the three days stems from lunar cycles. While we now take note the new moon on a single day, it actually is hidden from our view on the day before and after as well, giving three nights of darkness.

Northern European Pagans (along with many other cultures) celebrated Equinox with great fanfare and elaborate ritual. The Celts of Britain lit giant bonfires to scare away the evil spirits of cold and darkness, thus freeing the sun god to bring light and warmth back to the earth. In many parts of the world, bonfire and candle burning still survive as a springtime tradition.

The Pagan Spring Equinox celebration is referred to as Ostara, or Oestre, or sometimes Eostre. These are all variations of the name of a Germanic lunar goddess. We can clearly see where the name of our modern Christian holiday, Easter, comes from.

The Easter celebration shares many components with Spring Equinox celebrations of old. Strangely, the early Christians decided that this holiday would not be celebrated on the Spring Equinox itself, but rather on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the Equinox. That’s why the actual date of Easter varies, from around March 23rd to April 20th.

This year, since the Equinox falls right before the new moon, Easter is about two weeks later on April 8. Pagans and Christians alike celebrate these holidays with symbols of spring such as eggs, baskets, seeds, birds and rabbits.

Ostara was, and still is, celebrated as a fertility festival honoring the birth of spring and the reawakening of life from the earth. The people rejoice as the goddess awakens and blankets the earth with fertility. The god stretches, matures, and delights in nature’s abundance.

Part of this celebration includes decorating hard-boiled eggs in honor of the fertility goddess. The egg is an important symbol of spring, with its golden sun-like yolk representing the sun god and the outer white casing associated with the white goddess. As a whole, the egg holds the power of new life and symbolizes rebirth. Eggs are dyed with natural substances such as onion skins, and celebrants sometimes eat them as part of their ritual.

Seeds are like eggs. While eggs contain the promise of new animal life, seeds hold the potential of a new plant.  A seed ritual is a powerful way to acknowledge and celebrate the Spring Equinox. Such a ritual can be as simple as planting a few seeds in a small pot, while meditating on your intention for the coming months. What do you want to nurture and grow in yourself or in the world?

Or you can plan an elaborate gathering including song, prayers and dance, with each person stating their intention for the new season as they plant their seed into the earth. There are many variations, but the point is in acknowledging how the changing seasons of nature affects our inner landscapes as human beings.

So during the coming week, have some fun with spring celebrations. Boil up some eggs and dye or paint them with your favorite colors and symbols. Place them in a beautiful basket to decorate your table. If you have used natural food-based dyes you can even eat the eggs with your children or some friends.

Most importantly, remember to go outside, take a walk in the warm sunshine or the soft spring rain, and breathe in this new life burgeoning all around.

 

13 Responses to Celebrate Spring! Equinox Is Here

  1. I have a strange question….in years past, the Vernal Equinox occurs on the 21st one out of every four years (ie- 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007)…except where it should have occurred in 2011, it did not.

    Why is this? Any idea?

    • Hi Rave, I’ve wondered myself why it is the Equinox occurs on different dates each year (super early this year.) I tried to find some info online before writing this post but came up with zero! Although I did not spend as much time as I could have because the Equinox caught me unawares!

      I know there is some logical explanation. I will do some questioning around and let you know if I come up with something.

      • I have wondered about why equinox doesn’t fall on the same day either and i finally took the time to do the research today.

        The Gregorian calendar, which most of the world uses today, is imperfect. Its days and months don’t precisely represent the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun. In other words, the Earth isn’t in the same spot every year on a given date.

        The equinox would fall on exactly the same day each year if Earth completed its orbit in exactly 365 days. But it actually takes about 365.25 days. The extra quarter of a day means that the equinoxes occur 6 hours later each year, which pushes the date the equinox falls on around from year to year…..

  2. I am still a bit confused. I do realize that our ‘calendar year’ is different from the orbital year…
    (which is why leap year occurs only 97 times every 400 years)….
    …so my question is how is it that the equinox has been celebrated on the same day for the past five years?
    Is there some part to the math I am not understanding?

    • I think that because equinox occurs 6 hours later each year it can take 4 years for the equinox to change days. sooo
      year 1 = March 21 @ 1.am.
      Year 2 = March 21 @ 7 a.m.
      Year 3 = March 21 @ 1 p.m.
      Year 4 = March 21 @ 7 p.m.
      Year 5 = March 22 @ 1 a.m.

      In above example, equinox falls on same day (march 21) but by year 5 falls on the following day. I’m just guessing that this is how the math works. I’m not an expert. Sarah chime in if this sounds like Malarkey

      • Okay- and if you add in leap year every four years, the 22nd is OUT as equinox because we jump backwards for the orbit to coincide with the calendar.
        So if it is at 00:07 on the 21st, (i’m using 2007), instead of going to 6am on the 21st, 2008 was a leap year, so it turned into 6am on the 20th, and since then it has been noonish, 7pm-ish, and just when it gets to after midnight making the equinox turn into the 21st, it’s leap year again, knocking it back to the 20th.

        I think I’ve got it.

        • Wow! Thank you both for figuring this all out so I didn’t have to do all that math. Make total sense! I knew Gregorian calendar and Leap Year had something to do with it. Maybe I should put an update in the post so future readers can ‘get’ this. Can’t wait to check out your blog post Rave!

  3. I’m glad I found this blog. I never knew the story or history behind Easter eggs. I am pretty happy, though, that spring is here. And now I know about the Vernal Equinox, too.

    • I’m so glad you found us too Charleen. It’s so interesting to delve into these histories of the holidays and traditions we take for granted. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’re having a lovely Spring.

  4. Very interesting article, i love learning about the roots of Christian festivals. I also love spring, new growth, longer days, surrounded by life and hope. Bring it on!

    • So true Ciara. Spring is always my favorite season. Something about all those brand new buds poking up, the promise of a new garden to plant and the scent of fruit blossoms in the air just fills me with hope. I hope your spring is unfolding with beauty!

Leave a reply