When is Spring Festivals (07.05.2018)
Observed in Worldwide
Observed on Between February and April, often around the spring equinox (March 20–22 in the Northern Hemisphere, September 20–22 in the Southern Hemisphere)
Observed by General Public
From the beginning, human survival and sustenance were strongly and directly dependent on the pattern of the seasons and the elements that played such a vital role in their definition. It is amply evident that the earliest festivals originated in response to the changes in seasons and from the desire to propitiate the deities thought to control the elements. Around the world a variety of festivities mark the seasons of the year, bringing pleasure and excitement to everyday life. Festivals are joyous occasions meant to be celebrated with the community at large. The origins of many of these festivals are lost in the unrecorded histories of antiquity, but the observances marking the spring (or vernal) equinox are still very much a part of our lives.
In order to ensure that the seasons would be favorable and allow humans to survive whatever they brought, they devised rites and ceremonies dedicated to different gods. Vestiges of these celebrations remain in modern cultural festivities. For example Zoroastrians and numerous societies in Asia and the Near East still celebrate Navruz, the new day or New Year, arguably the oldest celebration in the world.
In early times these events almost always coincided with the beginning of a new year, and the earliest calendars were lists of festivals celebrating the natural changes of seasons. According to this natural cycle of events, the year began with spring.
Origins and History
The earliest spring festivals were celebrations of natural wonders, many of which puzzled early humans.
In every community, age, and country, the spring equinox ensures the coming end of the long, cold, harsh winter. Occurring every year on March 20, 21, or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, spring brings fertility, the throb of life, the resurgence of hope, and the long days of summer sunshine. Spring holiday customs express this exuberance with singing and dancing, a profusion of flowers, gift-giving, and general playfulness. Spring festivals are joyous occasions that welcome the return of green to the earth.
Spring festivals were rituals performed to guarantee the fecundity of the land, animals, and people.
The earliest societies were agricultural, and survival was largely dependent on the fertility of the soil and the benevolence of the weather. So spring rituals were taken very seriously. The people feared that if the deities believed to control these factors were not suitably propitiated, then the Sun would not shine, or there might be excessive rain or no rain, and then plants would not grow.
The vernal equinox is probably one of the oldest seasonal observances in civilization. The earliest reference to a spring holiday is from Babylon, around 2400 B.C.E., where we learn of a celebration during the modern months of March or April in the city of Ur dedicated to the Moon and the spring equinox. The Babylonians were among the first, if not the first, civilization to institutionalize both equinoxes as the pivotal points in their year. Ultimately the Jewish spring equinox celebrations, the Feast of Weeks and Passover, may be derived to some extent from the Babylonian celebration (in spite of biblical stories offering other explanations), acquired between 597 and 538 during the Babylonian Captivity.
In fact most of the cultures found around the Mediterranean probably had their own spring festivals, although their focus would have been slightly different. Whereas in the north the vernal equinox is a time to begin planting, for societies farther south the summer crops have already begun to sprout. Whether celebrating the time for sowing or the sprouting of new life, spring celebrations have always welcomed the arrival or promise of new life.
Some of the earliest records of celebrations of the rites of spring are found in ancient Rome. Every year in March the ancient Romans celebrated a festival in honor of Mars, the god of agriculture and war, after whom the month of March is named.
Priests of Mars, called salii, or leapers, marched around the city dancing and clanging their swords and shields. This dancing was believed to help the newly planted grain grow. High leaps would make the grain grow taller, it was believed. Moreover Ceres, the goddess of grain, was offered cakes and a sacrificial sow, so that she would protect the newly planted seeds.
The beginning of May was also a popular festival time in Roman communities. In honor of Flora, the goddess of flowers, the Romans held a five-day celebration every year called the Floralia, which began around April 28 and lasted until May 2. During the festival children wound garlands of spring flowers around columns in the temple of Flora as offerings to her.
The Lupercalia, which involved purification rituals in addition to fertility rites, is another Roman spring festival. Celebrated on February 15 the dies februatus, meaning “day of atonement,” honored the god Lupercus, a fertility god. It was one of the most ancient Roman festivals; its crude, bizarre rites and traditions belong to the early days when Romans were still a half-savage group of shepherds. The festival was named for the naked male priests called luperci, but no one, including the Roman celebrants, seems to have known much about the deity worshipped.
(Faunus, the Roman pastoral god, was also worshipped during this festival.) The luperci traditionally sacrificed two goats and a dog on this day. At a subsequent time the luperci clothed themselves in goatskins and ran through the streets of Rome, symbolically swatting at people with strips of goat hide so they would be fertile. At a much later date, Pope Gelasius I (d. 496 C.E.) converted the Lupercalia purification festival into the festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
Spring festivals are found in other ancient civilizations as well. Ancient Greece celebrated the Olympieia in the spring, a festival that honored Zeus (the king of Gods) and combined religious festivities with athletic events. In ancient Mesopotamia in Babylon, where the king was considered god’s agent on Earth, Akitu, the New Year’s festival, was held during spring, in the month of Nisan.
Most spring religious festivals, regardless of the culture, were centered on a god whose own death and subsequent rebirth symbolized the death and rebirth of life. In some societies the king (sometimes called the Corn King, or Corn God) represented the god and was sacrificed to ensure fertility and a good harvest. Whether the sacrifice was the king, another individual, or an animal (typically a bull), it was important that the sacrifice go willingly to its death, without a struggle. In some stories the god, for example Osiris (Egyptian), Orpheus and Dionysus (Greek), Attis (Phrygian), Adonis (originally Syrian), or Tammuz (Babylonian), descended into the underworld, often to bring a goddess back.
Certainly the Christian savior Jesus belongs in this company: He was sacrificed to redeem humanity (although maybe not on the vernal equinox); he went willingly, and he was reborn.
Originally Cybele was the Phrygian great mother goddess, and Attis was her consort. By 200 B.C.E., worship of Cybele had reached Rome, and a temple dedicated to her was located on what is now known as Vatican Hill. Apparently when early Christians moved into pagan territories, both groups worshipped their respective deities at the same time-the pagans worshipping Attis (or Orpheus or Osiris), and the Christians, Jesus. Of course both groups were equally convinced that their god was the true god.
With the advent of Christianity radical changes took place in these ancient spring rites and ceremonies, especially with respect to how their purposes were understood. In order to eradicate religious competition for the people’s allegiance, the early church fathers outlawed all pagan rites and ceremonies.
But the people would not entirely give them up because these rituals and their attendant festivities had been a way of life for thousands of years-as long as anyone could remember. Consequently the Christian Church changed its strategy; instead of forbidding the performance of pagan rituals where it had encroached, it grafted Christian purposes and meanings onto the old pagan rituals and festivals. Many of the most popular and enduring observances, thought of as being Christian, are really the reinterpreted rituals and ceremonies of a pagan past.
The pagan origins of contemporary Christian celebrations of Easter provide a good example of how aggressively the early church used pagan ceremonies, symbols, and their sacred religious sites.
The name of the Christian festival Easter, for example, was taken from the name of the German goddess of fertility Eostre. Her feast day occurred on the first full Moon following the vernal equinox, and a similar calculation for scheduling Easter observations is used by Western Christians.
On that first full Moon Eostre is believed to mate with the solar god. She will conceive a child who will be born nine months later on Yule (December 21, the winter solstice) around the time when Christmas festivities are on many people’s calendars.
Two of the symbols most frequently chosen by Christians for Easter are the hare, or rabbit, and the egg, both important symbols associated with Eostre’s fertility rituals. And these symbols figure prominently in Easter celebrations.
In their present form spring celebrations include water and fire festivals, feasts and pageants, complete with traditional foods, costumes, and music. Flowers are to be found decorating everything, and gifts and good wishes are exchanged during this time of merrymaking. People wear new clothes as if imitating Mother Earth, who is also adorned with fresh leaves, flowers, and grass. And the worship of Eostre goes on. Modern Wiccans and neo-pagans celebrate Ostara, which has a different spelling of Eostre’s name, with a lesser Sabbat on the vernal equinox. Some believe that this name is ultimately a variation on the names of other prominent goddesses, like Ishtar, Astarte, and Isis.