It feels like spring has come early to Slovenia this week. We have seen temperatures of 19°c, early blossom is starting to bloom on the trees and daffodils are out. It’s such a wonderous sight and cheers the heart.
Slovenia is big on celebrating the arrival of spring and giving winter a figurative kick in the backside goodbye. On 12th March St Gregory’s Day occurs. Until the 16th century, when calendars were changed, this celebration used to coincide with the first day of spring. Today it is a Slovenian St. Valentine’s, a day for lovers. According to folk traditions it is the day for birds to nest. Children across Slovenia welcome spring on this date by floating hand-made candle boats down rivers. This act marks an old tradition when on this day the blacksmiths of Kropa did not need torches to work anymore as the days were long enough not to light them. So, they celebrated by throwing burning objects into the local stream. This evolved into children sending little ships and huts down the water.
The spring equinox this year is on 20th March and marks the official start of spring in the northern hemisphere. It is the day when day and night are of equal length. Celebrations occur all around the world to celebrate. Here’s some of the many different ways the occasion is observed.
Druids, Pagans and Wiccans, who draw on beliefs from a number of ancient religions that honour nature, will gather at dawn at Stonehenge in the west of England. They watch the sun rise above the ancient ring of stones thought to have been placed there 5,000 years ago. They call this spring equinox festival Ostara and celebrate it by drinking dandelion and burdock cordial, which they believe cleanses the blood, and playing musical instruments.
Winters can be particularly hard in Poland. Poles celebrate by symbolically burying winter. The children make straw effigies of Marzanna, the ice maiden. They dress her in a wedding dress and put a wreath on her head and then they throw her into a river or lake or set her on fire. They then collect flowers and branches and decorate them with ribbons and beads to welcome in the new season.
The Zoroastrian festival of Nowruz is celebrated in Afghanistan at the spring equinox. A drink made up of seven fruits and nuts is traditionally drunk on this day and copious amounts of cookies are baked. These are often packed up for a picnic and taken out to be enjoyed in the countryside prior to a spot of kite flying which is a favourite hobby of theirs.
It is said that in ancient Italy on the day of the spring equinox women went to the Gardens of Adonis and planted seeds to signify new growth and rebirth. This custom remains in Sicily. Women plant seeds of grains, vegetables and flowers. When the shoots emerge, they tie the stalks with red ribbons and on Good Friday put them on graves to show that life will always win over death.
In Belarus the spring equinox means a return of birds to their homeland. To welcome these back they decorate trees with ribbons and paper birds. They also bake bread in the shape of birds and then take them outside to throw them up into the air.
Kurds celebrate their new year at the spring equinox. On the eve of the equinox, Kurds in Turkey light bonfires to symbolise the passing of the dark winter season and the arrival of the light spring season. On the day itself they wear new clothes, gather spring flowers and sing, dance, recite poetry and smash pottery for good luck. Many families from the city travel to the countryside to be at one with nature and see the first shoots of spring.
The Hindi festival of Holi marks the arrival of spring and is celebrated very close to the spring equinox. At this upbeat and cheerful festival revellers throw brightly coloured powders at each other and then throw water over each other in celebration of fertility and love. They also burn wood and dung cakes to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.
On the spring equinox all over China people play the egg standing game, where anyone who can get an egg to stand upright at this time is said to bring good luck upon themselves. This game is said to have been played at the time of the spring equinox in China for 4,000 years. Children decorate eggs ready to take part in game, which is actually quite hard to do.