RITES OF SPRING

Vernal Equinox - Passover - Easter - Nowruz

The Vernal Equinox is the day that the sun passes from south to north over the equator as the earth proceeds in its annual journey around the sun.
Day and night are of equal length and, in the northern hemisphere, days begin to be longer than nights . In all calendars this is the start of Spring, and in most cultures is the cause of celebration.
In the year 2015, the exact time of the Equinox is 22:45 UTC* (Universal Coordinated Time) March 20. Passover precedes Easter by one week 2015.

*NOTE Universal Coordinated Time is commonly known as Greenwich Mean Time. Therefore local time for the Vernal Equinox depends upon the Time Zone. For example: 6:45p.m. (18:45 in New York (EDT); 7:45 in Tokyo (JST); 8:45 in Singapore (SGT). Of course, south of the equator days start getting shorter - southern autumn.

Early civilizations

In ancient Babylon, about 4,000 years ago, the New Year celebration Akitu began with the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox and was a festival celebrated for a whole week. The first month was called Nissanu.

In ancient Persia, at least 3,000 years ago, the start of the year was celebrated on the day of the Vernal Equinox. The holiday Nowruz is still celebrated today, although Ayotollah Khomeini tried (without success) to ban it after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

In ancient Rome, the New Year and spring started at the beginning of March. The New Year was celebrated as the festival of Juno Lucina, who was a goddess of light and childbirth. On the 17th of March, Romans celebrated the Ludi Liberales with public games for the fertility god Liber. On the 22 of March, a procession carried palms to the shrine of the mother goddess Cybele.

Hebrew Passover - Pesach

The Jewish Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the 40-year long Exodus of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt.
Passover is a spring festival, so the 14th day of Nisan begins on the night of the full moon after the Vernal Equinox, hence it is also called Chag he-Aviv, the Spring festival. During Passover only unleavened bread Matzo may be eaten, and any leavened grain must be cleaned from the house before the holiday begins. During the ceremonial dinner Seder on the first night of Passover, four glasses of wine should be drunk at proscribed times during the meal.

Christian Easter - Pascha

Easter Sunday commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was Crucified on the preceeding Friday. It is the most festive of all Christian holidays, especially so in the predominantly Catholic or Orthodox countries of central and eastern Europe (see Easter in Europe).
It is the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the Vernal Equinox. Although Christ's Crucifixion occurred during the Passover, Easter does not always coincide with the Hebrew Passover because of difference between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars. In 2013 the two festivals actually coincided, in 2015 they are a week apart.
The week long observance of Easter starts on Palm Sunday during which palm leaves (in central Europe twigs of budding willow trees) are blessed at Mass. It commemorates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem for the observance of Passover. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper at which Jesus observed the Seder with his disciples. Holy Friday is a day of mourning commemorating His Crucifixion.
However many non-religious pastimes from old traditions enliven the celebrations; for example: the coloring of eggs, the use of budding willow branches, etc.

In the Eastern Orthodox church, the old Julian calendar is still in use, therefore Easter in many east European countries, such as Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, is celebrated up to a month later.

Persian New Year - Nowruz

The Muslim religion contains no celebrations of any events in nature. But the ancient Persian calebration of the New Year at the Vernal Equinox continues in many Asian countries in spite of the efforts of the clerics to suppress it.
In modern Iran, Nowruz is a national public holiday,starting on the day of the equinox and lasting four days. It is also the first day of the year and of the month Farvardin. The 13th day of the month is Nature Day which is celebrated with outdoor picnics.
Nowruz, designated as March 21 of the Universal Calendar, is also a public holiday in many Asian countries, including all the countries ending in ..stan, (Afghanistan, Tajikstan, Kurdistan region of Iraq, Uzbekistan, etc) Azerbeijan, Georgia, and in Europe - Albania. It is celebrated, although not a public holiday, in northern India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Turkey, Crimea. Of course, people of Iranian or Farsi origin throughout the world celebrate this holiday.

Spring day in other cultures and religions

The various Indian states with large Hindu populations celebrate a New Year day around the time of the equinox, although on varying dates in March or April.
Theravāda Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos, celebrate the new year for three days from the first full moon day in April. In Thailand, the holiday called Songkran is a joyeous celebration and includes throwing water at each other.to get rid of all the bad deeds and give a fresh welcome to the New Year. (NOTE: this is also done on Easter Monday in many Slavic countries, including Poland.)

And if you wonder why the calendars of various cultures and religions don't agree with oneanother, check this link Time-keeping and calendars.

DATES FOR EASTER SUNDAY AND PASSOVER

YEAR EASTER (western) EASTER (Orthodox)             PASSOVER             
2013 March 31 May 5 March 25-April 2
2014 April 20 April 20 April 14 - 22
2015 April 5 April 12 April 3 - 11
2016 March 27 May 1 April 22 - 30
2017 April 16 April 16 April 10 - 18


NOTE: Of course, for those in the southern hemisphere, this is the autumnal equinox and days start to get shorter. Within the Tropics, close to the equator, there is little change in the length of day. Only the sun moves from south to north . Therefore ancient civilizations in, or close to the tropics, had no sense of change of seasons.


Return to top of page.
Go to history index for many articles about national customs.

links header

Time and calendars , all about registering time and dates over the centuries and around the world.

Easter , all about Easter.

Easter in central and eastern Europe.

Passover, all about Passover.

Nowruz
ancient new year, spring, holiday around the world.

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