Happy Spring! Let’s take a look at a few different (and similar) ways the coming of spring is celebrated in different cultures around the world.
Spring tradition in Switzerland
In a fiery celebration of winter’s end, the Swiss use a stunning show to ring in the new season.
A snowman is burned on a stake once the first flowers begin to bloom, marking the definite end to winter’s dark days. Known as the Böögg, the snowman’s demise is a popular tradition dating back to the 16th century. The snowman is often stuffed with explosives.
Popular tradition has it that the time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg’s head is indicative of the coming summer: a quick explosion promises a warm, sunny summer, a drawn-out burning a cold and rainy one. The shortest time on record is 5:07 minutes in 1974 and the longest is 43:34 minutes in 2016.
Burnings of Böögg figures (the Swiss German term for “bogey”, in origin scary-looking ragdolls) in spring are attested in various places of the city from the late 18th and early 19th century, without direct connection to the Sechseläuten. The combination of the Sechseläuten parade and the burning of an official Böögg was introduced in 1902. Source)
Image © Roland Fischer, Zürich (Switzerland) – Mail notification to: roland_zh(at)hispeed(dot)ch / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
A burst of color
Holi in India
In a celebration of the triumph of good over bad, the colorful Holi tradition takes place in late February or early March. A Hindu spring festival in India and Nepal, it is also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.
It lasts for two days starting on the Purnima (Full Moon day) falling in the Bikram Sambat Hindu Calendar month of Falgun, which falls somewhere between the end of February and the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar. The first day is known as Holika Dahan (हॊलिका दहन) or Chhoti Holi and the second as Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi or Dhulivandan.
To usher in the spring season, people participate in bonfires and parties the night before Holi. The next day, the masses gather on the streets for a giant color fight, throwing dyed powder onto each other. The carefree revelry offers a chance to connect with other human beings and let go of any past hardships. (Source)
Image by Ingo Mehling (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The new day
Nowruz in Iran
Nowruz, which means “The New Day” in Persian, marks the beginning of the New Year in Iran and typically falls near the vernal equinox in March. Although it is now a secular holiday celebrated across religious traditions in Iran, Nowruz’s origins are in the ancient religious ideas of Zoroastrianism, which stresses the complementary workings of good and evil and the interconnectedness of humanity and nature.
Today, Iranians celebrate Nowruz over the course of 13 days by extensively cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothing, paying visits to family and friends, and by setting out a symbolic spring meal called Haft seen. On the thirteenth day of the festival, celebrants picnic outside with their families, in a symbolic renunciation of the bad luck traditionally associated with the number 13.
Haft Seen is the traditional table setting of Nowruz in Iran. Typically, before the arrival of Nowruz, family members gather around a table, with the Haft Seen set on it, and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. At that time, the New Year gifts are exchanged.
The setting includes seven items starting with the letter S or seen (س) in the Perso-Arabic alphabet. The items include:
– Greenery (سبزه – sabze): Wheat, barley or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.
– Samanu (سمنو – samanu): A sweet pudding made from germinated wheat.
– The dried fruit of the oleaster tree (سنجد – senjed)
– Garlic (سیر – sir)
– Apples (سیب – sib)
– Sumac berries (سماق – somāq)
– Vinegar (سرکه – serke)
These items are also known to have astrological correlations to planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun and Moon. Other symbolic items which are usually set along the Haft Seen are candles, a mirror, decorating coins, and decorated eggs (sometimes one for each member of the family). A bowl of water with goldfish, a holy book (e.g. the Avesta or Quran) and/or a poetry book (e.g. the Divan of Hafez), and rose water are also included to the setting.
The custom and the traditional practice of Haft Seen has been changed over times. The initial term Haft Chin meaning “the seven collected”, has been gradually altered to the present-day name of the setting. (Source)
Image by Rayeshman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Water that cleanses
Songkran Water festival in Thailand
In mid-April, the three-day Songkran Water festival marks the New Year in Thailand with a massive public water fight, meant to represent a cleansing of negative influences. Though the traditional iteration of the festival activity is a gentle, respectful sprinkling of water onto other people–a sign of respect and blessing–since the celebrations occur during the hottest month of the year in Thailand, revelers frequently douse each other in the streets.
The word “Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, literally “astrological passage”, meaning transformation or change. The term was borrowed from Makar Sankranti, the name of a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in India in January to mark the arrival of spring. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart, the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festive occasion is in keeping with the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar.
The Songkran celebration is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues is considered an iconic ritual for this holiday. It represents purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck. As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders. As a way to show respect, younger people often practice water pouring over the palms of elders’ hands. Paying reverence to ancestors is also an important part of Songkran tradition.
The holiday is known for its water festival which is mostly celebrated by young people. Major streets are closed for traffic, and are used as arenas for water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other. Traditional parades are held and in some venues “Miss Songkran” is crowned.” where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress. (Source)
Image by Jan [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Drowning of the Marzanna
Polish Spring Celebration
In a tradition originating from the 16th century, people in Poland celebrate the first day of spring with dramatic fashion. Called the drowning of the Marzanna, a doll, usually made of straw, is made to symbolize the cold, dreary winter. In Slavic rites the death of the Goddess Marzanna at the end winter (some sources compare her to the Greek goddess Hecate), becomes the rebirth of Spring of the Goddess Kostroma representing the coming of spring.
The dolls are then paraded through the street as crowds make their way to a river or other body of water. The decorated dolls are then tossed into the water to symbolize the end of winter’s wrath.Sometimes the effigies are first set on fire, or their clothes are torn. On the journey back to the village the focus falls on the copses, adorned with ribbons and blown egg shells. The procession, still singing, returns to the village. (Source)
Image by Ratomir Wilkowski, www.RKP.org.pl (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons