The annual calendar cycle is often referred to as the wheel of the year. This is because it’s a cycle that keeps repeating. It also has seasonal fluctuations with sacred dates clustered together throughout. Yes, there’s the odd secular/nationalistic day thrown in here and there, but in terms of sacred days, they tend to cluster together within the given seasons. Every season has its own, and most spiritual groups have at least one sacred day within each season.
We tend to think of winter in terms of holiday clustering with the many religious and spiritual light bringing festivals that help us endure the darkest days of the year. Yet winter is not alone. Spring is another season with a myriad of festivals. It’s the time of fertility celebrations, and that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to discuss the similarities between several of the various spring fertility celebrations. Please note that I am presenting these holy days in alphabetical order within the English language. Because many of them are held on differing dates each year they may or may not occur in this order.
Easter is the Christian celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a moveable holiday- occurring on various dates each year, but the specific date is based on when the first full moon occurs after the Spring equinox. This holiday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, his burial, three day descent into hell, and his resurrection and defeat over death. All of these taken together provide salvation for followers of Christ. In many instances, people buy and wear new clothes in order to look their best for Easter services. In addition to religious services that occur at sunrise in cemeteries, the day is often marked with non-Christian aspects taken from Ostara (rabbits, eggs) when the Catholic church forced conversions and took the pagan day and whitewashed it with their own celebration.
Holi is the Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of Spring. Because the Hindu calendar is lunar (like the Jewish calendar) the day does not always fall on the equinox which is a solar astrological marker. Because the Hindu and Jewish calendars are both lunar, Holi and Purim fall around the same time, often on the same day or within one day of each other. Holi is known as the festival of colors and is celebrated with vivid color pigments being thrown around. There are also bonfires and festive meals to mark the occasion. Holi is sometimes also referred to as the festival of love and is a time when people gather together and forget grievances they have with one another.
Nooroz is the Persian New Year celebrated on the Spring Equinox. This holiday is preceded by a major Spring cleaning to ready the home for the celebration. Nooroz is celebrated with bonfires and a festive meal shared with friends and family. The meal includes various fertility symbols including eggs and spring greens. Many celebrants buy new clothes specifically for Nooroz so that they will look their best for the celebration.
Ostara is another of the spring fertility celebrations. It is the pagan celebration of the Spring Equinox, and as a result, always falls around March 21. It is a celebration of the fertility goddess Ostara. The day is celebrated with planting, nature walks, time outside, and various other rituals to welcome Spring. Symbols of the day include fertility imagery such as the rabbit and the egg. A festive meal is generally celebrated with eggs and early spring greens.
Like all Jewish holidays, Passover falls on the same lunar/Jewish date (Nissan 15), but moves dates on our Gregorian/solar calendar. Passover is a seven day festival commemorating the Hebrew slaves Exodus from Egypt. The holiday begins with a festive meal- known as a seder- which includes the retelling of the Exodus story. For seven days the festival is celebrated by not eating leavened bread. This is done in commemoration of the fleeing Hebrews who had to flee at a moment’s notice and did not have time for their bread to rise. At the seder, and for the following seven days, the only baked goods eaten are unleavened bread. The festive seder meal marking the beginning of Passover includes fertility symbology- eggs and early spring greens.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that occurs in late winter or early Spring. It always falls on the same day on the Jewish calendar (Adar 14), however, because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the date varies on our solar Gregorian calendar. Purim commemorates the story of Queen Esther and the victory over Haman and the salvation of the Jewish people. When Esther learns that the Persian King- her husband- had consented to the murder of the Jews (her people) she decides to confront him. She fasts (dies to her flesh and descends within her spirit) for three days and then goes before him without being called for, risking her life to plead her case. The holiday is celebrated with raucous parties, drunkenness, costumes to hide ourselves, charity, and eating triangle shaped cookies known as hamantaschen (Haman’s ears) that have sometimes been seen as a representation of the vagina.
St. Patrick’s Day
Always celebrated on March 17, this day is the Feast Day of the Catholic Saint Patrick. While he was not Irish, St. Patrick was sent as a missionary to Ireland where he became famous for driving all of the snakes out of the country. While many people see this as a myth, others see it as reality. In actuality, Ireland never had snakes, so in a literal sense, St. Patrick did not drive them from the land as they were never there. Others, however, say that the snakes St. Patrick drove out were not literal snakes, but were pagans and witches and that he was removing the Old Ways from Ireland in order to bring Catholicism in. Today the day is celebrated not as a religious holiday (except among Catholics), but as a form of Irish nationalism. The day is celebrated with wearing green, drinking, festivity, and general merriment. Many pagans and witches mark the day with green in order to celebrate nature and as a way to show St. Patrick that he didn’t succeed in removing them from Ireland.
Here I have described seven spring fertility celebrations- holidays that revolve around or related to the Spring Equinox. These are merely seven- there are many more as most every culture has a celebration around this same time. I hope you are able to see that these celebrations are quite similar to one another, several of them having different figures representing the same theme (salvation) or even the same imagery (fertility symbols).
I find it interesting, but not surprising, that most of these spring fertility celebrations involve raucous celebration and merry-making, and that they each celebrate the fertility of Gaia- whether overtly or through their general meaning. It is no accident, really. We are coming out of the dark cold days of winter that mark a type of spiritual inner death. The Spring equinox is a time when not only the earth, but we, are reborn and face the warmer days of Spring and Summer. No matter what your culture or faith, I hope you celebrate a festival at this time of year, and that your celebrations be enlivening.