Last week we celebrated the first day of spring, or vernal equinox, the days now start to get longer, the weather starts to get warmer, and you can almost feel yourself unfolding after the long clutch of winter. Everywhere you look, you see growth and renewal of flowers and leaves on the trees. Well everybody in the UK is now shouting “You got that wrong” in fact here in the USA we could say the same as there is a blizzard tracking through the Northern States, and it’s nippy down here in Florida where we are averaging 67 degrees for the next three days, about 15 degrees below normal. So what exactly is the “Vernal Equinox?” Well the term Vernal Equinox, is Latin, and the words mean “spring” and “equal night” respectively. The equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 each year and signals the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox—the first day of autumn—in the Southern Hemisphere. This year it was March 20th, at precisely 7:02am, U.S. Eastern daylight time, that the Sun crossed directly over the Earth’s equator. Because the Sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinox. I say “about equal” as it depends exactly where you are located on the surface of the Earth. The date is also significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. (it was a full moon yesterday – 25th March). It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox. Below are some photos of other traditions celebrated around the world, on or around the time of the vernal equinox:
Photo 1 – British surf boarders in Gloucestershire brave the Severn Bore, a tidal surge that reaches its highest heights around the spring equinox on the River Severn, due to the movements of the spring sun and full moon.
Photo 2 – Torch-bearing Kurds gather in the countryside to celebrate “Nowruz” near Aqrah, Iraq. on March 20. Here the vernal equinox festival of Nowruz is marked by fire, dancing, music—and journeys out into the wilderness. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, this traditional Kurdish celebration had been banned. In 2003 Iraq’s new Shiite leaders declared the day a public holiday.
Photo 3 – Traditionally costumed figures parade on stilts in Warsaw as part of the Polish celebration of the vernal equinox. Another Polish equinox custom is to carry an effigy of Marzanna—a goddess associated with winter—from house to house, then strip it, set it aflame, and drown it. Though originally performed on the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, the Marzanna drowning is now carried out by children on the first day of spring—the vernal equinox.
Photo 4 – And finally: Driving a tractor over an Afghan wrestler is one way to celebrate the spring equinox festival of Nowruz in Afghanistan, in a Kabul stadium! Until 2001 the public celebration of Nowruz was banned by the ruling Taliban. Present-day celebrations of Nowruz in Afghanistan now feature tournaments and displays of strength.