March 16: What’s the Spiritual Season? Saints and Spring and “Simnel Cake”

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 16 to 22, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

As spring approaches, the promise of warmer temperatures and new life brings a renewed sense of vitality. Many holidays around the world focus on the Vernal Equinox, which falls on Friday, March 20.

    But first, there’s green even earlier in the week: Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day!
    St. Patrick was among the first Christian missionaries, although many
Irish people around the world (and a growing number of non-Irish!) cook
up corned beef and hope for good luck on this day. Did you know St.
Patrick was originally associated with the color blue, and the shade
turned to green around the 18th century? Blue and gold were the ancient
colors of Ireland, and while those colors changed over the years, it’s
also popularly told that St. Patrick explained the Holy Trinity to the
Irish by using a shamrock bearing three leaves: those wearing a
shamrock on their clothing are described as “wearing the green.”

if you care to remember another fascinating spiritual story on Tuesday
March 17 is also St. Gertrude’s Day. She was patroness of cats, among other
things. We want to thank ReadTheSpirit reader Patricia Banker for
pointing this out to us, in advance — and for offering an elaborate Web
page of her own honoring St. Gertrude.

    One more saint’s day falls before the big seasonal change: Thursday marks St. Joseph’s Day for many Christians. He was the husband of Mary and the wise, faithful, patient carpenter who was patriarch of Jesus’ home. In Italy, foods containing breadcrumbs are commonly placed on the St. Joseph’s Day altar, as a symbol of sawdust in his profession as a carpenter.

    Then, on Friday, we reach the big change of seasons! The following observances fall around the equinox, but observances vary widely.

    Naw-Ruz, or the Baha’i New Year, marks the end of the 19-day fast with great ceremonies — and great foods. Since the messages conveyed by such figures as Jesus, Muhammad and the Bab reflect a feeling of renewed spirituality, Baha’is celebrate these messages during the first day of this season of new life. Prayer, music, dancing and dinners typically accompany this one of nine Baha’i holidays in which work is suspended.
    Nowruz, the Zoroastrian and Iranian recognition of the New Year, also occurs around the first day of spring. Customs vary, but ancient roots are connected with Nowruz – some believe festivities began around 555 B.C.
    While many celebrate new life, the Shinto tradition marks Shunki-Korei-Sai at this same time, praising ancestors at home altars and refurbishing gravesites on this day.

    How did eggs and bunnies became associated with springtime? A clue can be found in the Wiccan celebration of Ostara
. This goddess of spring and dawn derived from the Germanic goddess Eostre. She’s a symbol of fertility and new life — see the connection to eggs and rabbits? Also common symbols of fertility. While following the Wheel of the Year, Wiccans recognize eight festivals, or Sabbats, one of which is Ostara. For Ostara, egg hunts, egg coloring and planting seed gardens are popular activities. Dates of observances vary across communities, so check around locally if you’re trying to observe such an observance.
    In keeping with this season, here’s a Web site that will help you start your own seed garden this month.

    That’s not all in this auspicious week!
    Spend some time this week contemplating the evils of racism. On March 20, 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published — a major cultural catalyst in ending slavery in the U.S. It was the second best-selling book of the 19th Century, following the Bible!

     Plus, the United Nations marks Friday, March 21, as International Day for the Elimination of  Racial Discrimination. According to the U.N. summary of the observance: On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people  at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

    Finally, this coming Sunday, March 22, is the fourth Sunday of their Lenten season for most Christians. In England, this fourth Sunday of Lent is Mothering Sunday, a day when, centuries ago, Christians visited their “mother church” or “home church.” It was common for children working away from home to return for a reunion on this day, often picking flowers on their walk home to be given as a present to their mother. Today, children give their mothers flowers, cards and small gifts on Mothering Sunday.
    In addition to bouquets of flowers, children often brought Simnel cakes to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Here’s a link to learn about making your own Simnel cake.

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