A History of Spring Traditions

Learn about the different traditions of spring


| February/March 1999



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An American painted lady makes a spring meal of a flowering head of garlic chives.


In early spring, frost may still rime the windows in the morning, but we can feel the promise of a new season in each passing day. Almost imperceptibly, the sun warms, the day lengthens, and the air seems pure and thin as it takes on the scent of freshly turned soil, emerging green, and soft rains. Spring is a time of awakening, of healing and renewal, of the dawning and planting of new ideas. The world seems young and virgin again.

In February, many of us are still winter’s captive, so we plan, wait, and listen for the song of the lark, which heralds good luck and good weather. We can sip a tea of sage and honey as we thumb the garden catalogs, and on a fair day, we may go outside to lift that first shovelful of dirt or turn the compost pile.

In March, on the other hand, spring is official no matter what the weather report says. It arrives this year at 1:46 a.m. on March 21 (8:46 p.m. EST on March 20). That’s the vernal equinox, the time that the sun crosses the Earth’s equator from south to north and one of only two times in the year when day and night are equal in length. (The vernal equinox doesn’t fall on the same day every year because the length of the calendar year doesn’t quite correspond with that of the solar year; the first day of spring varies from March 19 to March 21.)

Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox, is April 4 this year, and in most states, that date also marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, when we know the sun is here to stay.

In earlier times, the vernal equinox was considered the beginning of the new year. It has always been an important day to those who work the land because it signifies the beginning of the season of regeneration and growth. We can empathize with the ancients’ joy at the resurrection of the sun god from the underworld. It’s spring! The thought makes me want to braid fresh flowers into my hair and perform pagan rituals.

Folklore has it that the vernal equinox is the only day of the year when an egg can be stood on its end. Even though that’s not true, we can admire the imagery. Eggs are, in fact, nature’s perfect symbol for springtime and new beginnings. In March, when life is quickening in its seemingly miraculous annual way, we can’t help but ponder the cosmic egg of creation. Our newly hatched world is green, new, fresh, and as innocent as the dawn.

monika
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