A Season of Rebirth
Ask any school child when Spring is, and he will tell you that it's the season that comes after Winter and before Summer. This well-known, well-loved transitional period is a welcome reprieve from the cold, dark, damp days of winter. Weather patterns in the Spring run the gamut from snow and sleet to rain and hailstorms, and from bright, sunny days and blistery, windy ones.
Gardeners till the ground and plant their seed in the Spring, while perennials peek up from the frozen winter ground. Lawns are dotted with daffodils and tulips in the Spring, and trees bud with flowers and fruit. From religious holidays such as Easter and Passover, which incorporate spring-time symbols, to cross-cultural traditions like spring cleaning, this season is a time for renewal and rebirth.
In most of the Northern Hemisphere, Spring occurs in the months of March, April and May, a calculation based on the average temperature of each month of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, spring takes place in September, October and November.
As for the official start of spring, that date varies by country and culture around the world. In the United States, for example, the vernal equinox -- which is approximately March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere -- is considered the first day of spring. In the Southern Hemisphere, the start of spring is considered September 1st, despite the fact that the vernal equinox isn't until September 22nd. And in East Asia, the start of spring is the 4th of February -- a full six weeks before the vernal equinox.
In many traditions, Spring was the start of the new year. In ancient Rome, the year began with the Ides of March. Until the 18th century, England and Ireland starting its new year on March 25th. In Persia today, the new year festival, Nawruz, begins on the spring equinox. According to Jewish tradition, there are a number of starting points for the year; while the start of the new year is in the fall (Rosh Hashana), the first month of the Jewish calendar is Nissan -- the month in which Passover falls.
Just like spring is a time for the rebirth of flowers, plants, trees and even animals (which spent a long, cold winter in hibernation), so too are their rebirths within springtime religious holidays. The most obvious of these is in Christianity, when the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated during the holiday of Easter. The holiday does not have a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar; rather it falls on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox.
But long before there was Easter, there was Hilaria, or the Day of Joy, celebrated by the ancient Romans. This 10-day festival honored Attis, the son of the great goddess Cybele. Rituals included chopping down a pine tree, a symbol for Attis, and placing it in the temple. After two days of mourning, the priests would open the temple at dawn and find it empty. The god had been saved!
In nearly every faith, there are familiar symbols that play an important role in springtime festivals. These symbols include eggs, representing birth and rebirth; seeds, representing a new beginning; and the circular shape, representing the cycle of life, which begins anew in the spring.
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