More Than Just the Beginning of Spring
Equinox is Latin for “equal night.” It describes the moment that the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving north. This gives the day and night an equal amount of time in the sky. In the northern hemisphere, this event signals the beginning of spring.
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The spring equinox is a time of rebirth and renewal. For thousands of years it has been an important cultural, spiritual and religious event. Let’s look at the the customs, celebrations and monuments honoring this special event.
Monuments Built for the Equinox
There are monuments throughout the world that pinpoint the exact moment of the spring equinox.
Angkor Was was built in the first half of the 12th century in Cambodia. It’s the largest religious monument in the world. It’s structures were built to mark astrological events, including the vernal equinox. Researchers from the University of Michigan discovered that by standing in a certain position one could observe the Sun rise directly over the top of the central tower at the precise moment of the spring equinox.
El Castillo is the name of a pyramid in the Mayan site of Chichen Itza in Mexico. During the spring equinox, when the setting sun touches a part of this pyramid, it creates a stunning visual. A shadow in the shape of a snake works its way down the pyramid. Perhaps it is a symbol of the Mayan snake god.
One of the most mysterious sites to celebrate the spring equinox is Stonehenge in England. To the ancient Saxons this was the time of year to honor the goddess Eostre who represents new beginnings and fertility. However, many people still gather to witness the sun rise over the great stones.
Celebrations Around the World
For many cultures, the spring equinox also signals the start of a new year. It’s a celebration of new life and rebirth, and a time to honor our most important relationships.
In Japan, the celebration of Shunbun includes the observance of the vernal equinox. People give flowers to family members both living and dead and also clean their homes. Many Buddhists in Japan also celebrate Higan, a similar week-long celebration that begins with the vernal equinox. The translation of the word Higan means “to arrive on the Other Shore,” also known as reaching Nirvana.
Since the 1950s Egyptians have celebrated Mother’s Day on the spring equinox. The tradition has also carried over to other countries such as Syria, Sudan and Iraq.
For the Bali Hindus, the calendar starts with the celebration of Nyepi. This is a quiet day of rest and reflection. It’s a part of other religious celebrations with renewal-like significance, such as the day after, when people offer forgiveness and renew their relationships with others.
Nowruz, also known as the Persian or Iranian New Year, is a spring equinox celebration. It began as a way to honor the ruler of Persia. Two weeks before Nowruz, people plant seeds. On March 21, houses are cleaned and a table is covered with a white tablecloth. The table is decorated with the new plants, a mirror, incense and eggs. People play games and dance.
Speaking of eggs, let’s not forget Easter which celebrates the life, death and the rebirth of Christ. It’s also a mix of cultural traditions, like decorating eggs. It’s also a religious celebration of life after death. Easter arrives on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.
Whether you view the spring equinox as a cultural, religious or cosmic event, it’s easy to understand why it’s important to so many people. It is an event that symbolizes and celebrates life, growth and the continuation of existence.