Bring on Spring!
March 20th is the vernal equinox! And the cry goes up around the world: "Which one is that again?" Well, it's a reason to celebrate, of course, and here's why and how your family can enjoy the official start of spring.
What Is the Vernal Equinox?
An equinox is a day (we get two a year) when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness all around the globe. The Northern Hemisphere’s vernal equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 each year. It marks the first day of spring!
This Day in History
In ancient times, pagans celebrated the vernal equinox as the festival of Ostara (hmm, possible baby name?), the fertility goddess, and used the symbols of the hare and the egg to honor the deity. The date of Easter, like Passover, is determined by the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
Worldwide, ancient monuments commemorate this celestial event. But the coolest monument is the temple of Chichen Itza in Mexico (shown), where the ancient Maya built a large pyramid that aligns with the equinox. As the sun rises on March 20, a shadow of a serpent becomes visible on the outer staircase, and through the day, appears to descend toward the gathered multitudes. Nice. It’s no wonder that the vernal equinox continues to hold special significance for many cultures today.
Around the World (Literally)
The vernal equinox marks the first day of the year on the Baha’i calendar, and it’s New Year’s Day in Iran, too, where fire-jumping and family picnics reign. So, Eid showma mobarak! (Happy Persian New Year!) and watch out for the flames! Elsewhere, in many Arab countries, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the spring equinox. And in Japan, it’s a national holiday called Shunbun no hi, traditionally commemorated by honoring ancestors and eating yummy peony cakes. So why not celebrate spring equinox in your corner of the world? All you’ll need are these ideas for a festive, family-style day.
Sprout into Spring
Families in Iran plant wheat or lentil seeds in bowls 15 days before the equinox. You and your toddler can enjoy similar anticipation by planting fast-growing grass seed. Fill a disposable cup 3/4 full with potting soil. Sprinkle a single layer of grass seed on the surface, then spray very gently with water until well moistened. Keep the cup on a sunny windowsill and spritz lightly each day. You should see wisps of green in about five days. For an extra spring giggle, help your child draw a smiley face on the cup and watch the green “hair” grow!
Call It a Holiday
Combine Arab and Japanese traditions to create a new one: Celebrate the equinox by honoring a special woman in your extended family. Pick up the phone and call Great Aunt Kay, Great-Grandma, or a Great Friend. Imagine her delight when she hears your little one wish her a “Happy Vernal Equinox!” And now that you know what it is, you’ll have something to chat about. You could even ask her if she knows the old wives’ tale about balancing eggs on the equinox. (Actually, you can balance an egg on its point any day, provided you have the time.)
Tell a Story
The vernal equinox also marks World Storytelling Day, so stop by your neighborhood library or bookstore to discover a tale of spring. There are oodles of books on the topic; here are three favorites:
Sing Like a Bird
Why should the other holidays get all the good songs? You and your child can make up your own springtime ditty by setting rhyming words to a well-known tune. It’s not as hard as you think because, hey, what word doesn’t rhyme with spring? To inspire you, here’s an echo song, sung to the tune of Frére Jacques:
It is springtime.
(It is springtime.)
Summertime is coming.
(Summertime is coming.)
Won’t be long!
(Won’t be long!)
If you can’t think of one of your own, don’t worry, because no one gets tired of Frére Jacques.
Celebrate Your Way
Singing a song, telling a story, talking with a loved one, planting a seed: These are just a few ways to make the vernal equinox a special day in your family’s year. The spring themes of renewal, growth, and warmth are perfect to celebrate with children, and the activities themselves pay homage to the arts, our relationships, and nature. Whether you try one, all four, or something all your own, remember that every holiday reminds us that life itself should be a celebration. Happy Vernal Equinox!
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