TUESDAY, MARCH 20: Spring festivals are popping up in almost every world religion this month, and today, the universe takes a turn: It’s the March equinox, otherwise known as the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. So take in a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy a walk in nature and watch those first flowers bloom!
The most common symbols of spring have their roots in in pre-Christian cultures: rabbits, eggs and ham dinners. Eostre, or Ostara, was a goddess in Germanic paganism whose celebration month was equivalent to April. (Wikipedia has details.) Whether she was a goddess of spring or of dawn (or both) remains debated, but “Ostara” has come to be associated with the spring equinox for modern Pagans. Ostara’s symbols, the rabbit and the egg, were chosen because of their association with fertility; eggs, in fact, were sometimes used in ancient European folk magic by women hoping for children. At the end of a long winter, ancient pagans would rejoice in the fresh food (no more root vegetables or stored game) and take out their best cured meats—with ham being the most popular. Today, most Pagans and Wiccans observe Ostara by taking a walk in nature or planting a garden. (Learn more from Wicca.com.)
Japanese Buddhists honor spring with Higan, a practice observed during both the spring and autumnal equinox. (Wikipedia has details.) Buddha described a person building a raft to cross from one shore to another when he described the path to Enlightenment, and the history of today’s Higan means “the other or that shore of Sanzu River;” in other words, Buddhists focus on crossing from the shore of ignorance and suffering, in their own lives, to the shore of Enlightenment.
The whole of Japan welcomes equinox with a public holiday known as Shubun-sai, although this holiday is closely tied with Buddhism, too.