It’s officially spring here in the northern hemisphere where I sit. In fact, according to my calendar, the spring or vernal equinox arrived yesterday, March 20, just a bit after noon, here in northeastern Vermont, USA.
First, a quick primer on what an equinox is. Ready?
Theoretically, it is the day in which the night lasts no longer than the day (Equi = equal; nox = night), theoretically being the operative word. The two equinoxes (March and September, aka vernal and autumnal) mark the point in which the center of the sun is directly over the equator.
The important part is that from now until the summer solstice (June here in the north) the days will be longer, the sunshine brighter, the temperatures warmer, and the grass greener.
Unless you live in San Francisco where the grass turns brown in June.
Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox, (here in the northern hemisphere we can also call it the March equinox), whatever the name given (or month observed), this marks the season around the world, of renewal and reconciliation, of fresh starts and new beginnings, of rebirth and fertility.
Yes, ’tis the season of the Christian Easter, the Jewish Passover, the Buddhist Higan, the Hindu Holi, and the Muslim Nauryz.
In Japan, Higan refers to “other shore” and their weeklong Buddhist services celebrate those spirits who have reached Nirvana, who have crossed over from suffering to enlightenment, to that other shore.
Eggs are big where I am. Originally called Paschal eggs (the Latin word for Easter), these colorful orbs are standard fare in any child’s Easter basket, along with those multi-colored marshmallow peeps and that (solid please) chocolate rabbit.
We color them, hide them, hunt for them, collect them or simply remember them, depending on age.
It was in Kazakhstan where I first learned of Nauryz — a multi-day celebration of friendship and family, when debts are repaid and friendships lost are rekindled. Fresh starts and new beginnings again
I first learned of Nauryz (NOW ruz) when I served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan (2004-2006). Here's an excerpt from my memoir of those years.
Banned during Soviet times, Nauryz still wasn’t an official holiday in Kazakhstan, but schools, banks, and businesses across the nation closed. The entire town, it seemed, flowed down Alashakhana, despite the fact that the day was cold and cloudy with a raw wind that made being outside most unpleasant.
Food vendors lined one side of the street, selling their deep-fried samsas and freshly grilled shashlik. Soft drinks and pastries covered their tables, and I saw blue cotton candy sold in plastic bags. Now this was a holiday!
Nauryz is a happy holiday, the symbolic start of a new year. Nauryz also ushers in the “new year” in relationships. Debts are paid and family members or neighbors who have fought during the year, reconcile.
For me, Nauryz symbolized a new commitment to my students and my colleagues. I would be going to Almaty in a few weeks for a conference, and while there I would make good on my intention to find the venues through which my Kazakh students or colleagues could travel abroad.
How about you? What rituals are you observing around this year’s Spring Equinox?
NOTE: My promised post on Empathy has both grown into two posts and been rescheduled for mid-April. Stay tuned.
NEXT WEEK: That other season in Spring.