Spring – a fresh start. Flowers blossom by the sidewalk. Birds start to sing. Bees start to buzz. People put away their winter clothes to embrace the warmer days.
This scenario has been romantically idealized for centuries now. Spring brings forth a breath of fresh air – one that is brimming with rejuvenation, youth, and hope. Symbolically, the mesmerizing season is associated with rebirth, renewal, resurrection, and regrowth. Historically, spring became the season where farmers plant new crops for the year. Therefore, it is undoubted that people came to look forward to this change of seasons, inadvertently leading to the emergence of many culturally significant traditions.
Spring in the ancient world
Even in ancient civilizations, spring played a pivotal role within society and culture. For instance, the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia celebrated Akitu around the time of the vernal equinox. In the Babylonian calendar, the festival fell in the first month of the year, the month of Nisannu – this makes Akitu one of the oldest New Year celebrations of all time. On the surface, it was a festival that celebrated the sowing of barley while simultaneously honoring the supreme god Marduk. However, the significance of the festival was much more. It symbolized the rebirth of nature and provided a sense of security for the people facing the year ahead. During the proceedings of Akitu, statues of gods were cleaned, dressed, and displayed to the mass public. People would then proceed to shower the Gods with hymns and offerings while hoping for a blessed year ahead.
The holiday of cherry blossoms
Spring festivals are not just isolated to the Fertile Crescent. In Japan, another blossoming holiday is Hanami. It is a cultural tradition celebrating the beauty and elegance of blooming cherry blossom flowers, commonly referred to as Sakura. When viewed from afar, one may observe floating pink cloud-like petals attached to majestic strong trees. Add in breathtaking shrines in the background, and the Sakura viewing truly becomes a sight to behold. Sakura trees usually bloom from the months of late March to early May. However, once a particular tree flowers, this burgeoning of colour only lasts for a week.
Although Hanami holds very little religious significance, the tradition in itself is deeply rooted in Japanese history. People appreciated the beauty of ume blossoms for as long back as the Nara period of 710 AD. Once reserved only for the upper-class, the customs of Sakura viewing has slowly spread to all members of society and became a staple for people from all walks of life. In today’s day and age, Hanami remains a staple within the Japanese community. They gather under flowering trees and hold picnics with cherished friends and family. In fact, people from all over the world travel to Japan to witness Hanami.
The festival of colours
Another common festival held during spring is Holi. Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated between the end of February and March. It lasts for one day and one night starting on the full moon of the month of Falgun. Holi is a joyous occasion representing the triumph of good over evil and eternal love. As history goes, Holi acts as a way to appreciate the everlasting and celestial love of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna and his consort, Radha. Holi also celebrates the overcoming of evil by the principal deity, Lord Vishnu.
The mythology of Holi makes this festival a staple within the Hindu community, predominantly in India and Nepal. On the eve of Holi, a customary rite called Holika Dahan is held. People light a bonfire and perform many rituals, where the main purpose is to pray for the evil held within oneself to be destroyed. The next day, Holi is a much more cheerful and colorful occasion. People take to the streets with Indian drums to sing, dance, and cheer. They shower each other joyously with handfuls of powder dyed every color imaginable. Undoubtedly a true Festival of Colours.
Indeed, spring serves as a symbol of new hope and a new year ahead. No matter the region, one common aspect reigns true: people celebrate the season that feeds them. They celebrate the season that nurtures their cold winter soul and the season that spells the coming of sunnier days and warmer temperatures.
As we transcend into the season of change, it is most certainly the perfect time to put away your winter coats, bring out the bicycles and spend a relaxing evening outside. Listen for the chirping birds as you feel the fresh breeze whistle in your ear. As you do, spare a thought for all the wonderful celebrations throughout the globe during this time of the year.
Author: Menosha Sivaretnam
Editor: Rebecka Klingberg