Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Vernal Equinox: Springtime in Saudi and the Equinoctial Day and Night that Join Us All

Cherry blossoms in full bloom are seen inside a garden on a spring day in Srinagar, Kashmir on March 21, 2009. (REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli)

March 20-21, 2010 is the day of the Vernal or Spring Equinox. At least in the Northern Hemisphere it is. In the Southern Hemisphere this is the Autumnal or Fall Equinox, and September will be the month of the Vernal Equinox, just as it will be the Autumnal Equinox for those North of the Equator.  The most inclusive expressions are, then, March or September Equinox. In any case, on this day, and again on September 20-21 we are all joined by the same sun striking the same planet in the exact same way such that 2 persons at an equal distance, one on each side of the Equator, experience the same number of hours of daylight and of nighttime on this particular day.

The Science of the Equinox(es)

The equinox (Latin, equal night) occurs twice a year at the precise point in time when the Sun is directly above the Equator, the Earth's axis being straight on, rather than tilted, as usual, in relation to the Sun and its rays. Generally, the equinox refers to the day on which this occurs, twice in the calendar year. Although the days and nights are approximately equal around this date, most precisely the equality is relative to position north and south of the Equator. The nights are equally long at points on the same latitudes, whether those latitudes are north or south of the Equator.

Astronomical events in the Northern Hemisphere and their cultural attributions

Cultural Expressions of the Vernal Equinox

Sun Gods

Ancient civilizations around the world celebrated the sun, and had a sun god. Often this was a male god and the dominant one over the other gods in that civilization's religion. The god was worshipped in various ways, and monuments built to the god and for worship of the sun. Some of these traditions are long past, while others are maintained in modified form, including remnants in the monotheistic religions.

Sham El-Nessim, or Sham ennessim/شم النسيم,‎ was originally an Ancient Egyptian holiday celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, or day of creation, much like an anticipatory harvest festival. Offerings to the gods included salted fish, lettuce, and onions. Though celebrated since 2700BC, after the Christianization of Egypt, it became integrated with Easter celebrations and is now celebrated on Easter Monday (as calculated by the Eastern Orthodox or Coptic Christian Calendar). Since Islamization, the date has remained on the Easter-linked calendar, but the modern celebration is more of a national holiday in Egypt. It is celebrated with family picnics, and traditional foods include salted fish, lettuce, scallions (green onions), lupini beans, and coloured hard-boiled eggs.

Both the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes were for the ancient Mayan civilization the most auspicious days to plant their staple crop, maize or corn. Their solar calendar of 365 days was represented in the architecture of their 4 sided pyramids with 91 steps on each side, and the final top 365th step. Their pyramids were decorated with the plumes serpents of their cosmology, and on each if the equinoxes, the way the pyramids were constructed the sun would snake down the centre of the main side, and play with shadow and light on the decorative cornices. El Palacio at Chichen Itza is perhaps the most magnificent of these pyramids but others are admirable as well, including a much smaller but exquisite one on the Yucatan peninsular coast at Tulum.

In East Asian cultures, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean the equinoxes are taken to be the mid-season points of Spring and Fall, as calculated by the 24 solar divisions of the calendar year. "Equal" in this context, represented by the Chinese character 分, is equidistant between the beginning and end of either the Spring or Fall season. In Japan the March or Vernal Equinox is a national holiday, a day for family and visiting ancestors at their graves.

New Year/Nowraz

A traditional Nowruz Haft Seen table with the 7 necessary items 
(all of which begin with the letter "seen" in Persian) in Tehran

In the Persian calendar, the Vernal Equinox is the first day of the New Year, or Nowraz. As an originally Zoroastrian holiday, Nowraz is common to the Iranian peoples of Greater Iran or the Iranian cultural continental sphere, and parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is a public holiday in Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kashmir, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being celebrated by Iranians, Kurds, and Parsis, in their homelands and their diasporas.

Mother's Day

In the Arab world, independent of religion, March 21 is Mother's Day as well as the first day of Spring. This includes the countries of North East Africa (Libya, Sudan, Egypt), the countries of the Levant (Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria), and the countries of the Gulf (Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE). The exceptions are the countries of the Maghreb which are former French colonies, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and which celebrate Mother's Day on the last Sunday in May, as does France.

Arab News has published an article on Mother's Day in Saudi Arabia,  "A day mothers get spoiled by daughters", which John Burgess has shared on his blog Crossroads Arabia, in a post entitled, Saudis Celebrate Mothers Day. Saudi blogger, Maha Noor Elahi, of A Saudi Woman's Voice, whose story was featured on Chez Chiara, in 2 parts, (Auto-) Biography of a Saudi Fraud--Part I Surviving, and Part II  Thriving,  has shared her personal Mother's Day celebration and wishes, describing how she was feted by husband and children on March 21 in a lovely post entitled,  Happy Mother's Day!.

Springtime in Saudi Arabia, and the region, is witness to a flowering in the desert that rivals the beauty of flowerings anywhere. This article on the Desert in Bloom, from the Saudi Embassy Magazine,  provides both an interesting text on desert ecosystems, and beautiful pictures, like those above and below. Plants include those used for food by humans and animals, as well as those with medicinal properties for man and beast, and ones used to make dyes for textiles and writing. Others are tufted and were once used as stuffing for pillows and saddles, particularly in the Hijaz.


The Spring Equinox is used in Judeism to calculate the start of Passover, the period of religious observance that celebrates God's sparing the Jews from the Egyptian Pharoah's edict to kill all first born sons, by marking their doors with lamb's blood, so that the Lord would ensure they were "passed over" in the door-to-door killing. Passover was originally a pilgrimage holiday for the Jews, one in which all performed the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since Jesus, a Jew, was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when he was betrayed, arrested, and crucified, this same calculation is used by Christians to determine the days of Paqua, the latinate name (from the Latin Pascha for the Hebrew Pesach, ie Passover) for the period of the Passion of Christ, including Palm Sunday (the day of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem), Good Friday (the day of his Crucifixion), Holy Saturday (during his entombment), and Resurrection Sunday (the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, following the Vernal Equinox), the day He was discovered risen from his grave. Northern Christian cultures blended the celebration of these events with the Northern European Germanic celebration of spring, and of the goddess of Spring, Eostre, or Ostara, as Easter. Wiccan celebrations of the Spring Equinox preserve this pre-Christian celebration of the goddess Ostara.

World Storytelling Day (Both Hemispheres)

World Storytelling Day is a recent international celebration of oral storytelling, which has grown from its inception in Sweden's All Storytellers' Day in 1991, to its adoption and adaptation  in 1997 in Perth, Australia as the International Day of Storytelling, after a 5-week Celebration of Story. It later spread throughout Scandinavia, the Commonwealth, and Continental Europe until World Storytelling Day now includes events on 6 continents. Since 2004 there has been agreement to link the stories being told around the globe on a theme, this year's being "Light and Shadow".

Seeing Signs of Spring and Celebrations of the Vernal Equinox

Despite the fact that the March climate varies greatly even within the Northern Hemisphere, we in the North (some more northernly than others) herald the first day of Spring and look forward to the Spring and Summer seasons ahead. Some international scenes from the  March Spring Equinox 2009, Signs of  Spring, compiled by

A girl enjoys the warm weather in St James's Park on March 16, 2009 in London, England. Temperatures reached 17 degrees celsius (63F) that day. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A robin sits on a snow-covered tree feeding on berries in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, British Columbia March 9, 2009. Vancouver had been covered in an unseasonal blanket of snow the previous night. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)

A duck pecks at shiny coins frozen in the ice of the Neva river in St. Petersburg on March 16, 2009. (ELENA PALM/AFP/Getty Images

The sun sets behind the London eye at the end of a warm day on March 16, 2009 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A young woman relaxes between thousands of crocuses near the river Rhine in Dusseldorf, Germany, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Effigies burn during the finale of the Fallas festival, which welcomes spring and honours Saint Joseph's Day, in Valencia in the early hours of March 20, 2009. Fallas are elaborate giant sculptures and effigies made of wood and plastic which are burned at the end of the week-long spectacle of processions, fireworks, music and dancing. (REUTERS/Heino Kalis)

The sun rises over Stonehenge as druids celebrate the Spring Equinox at Stonehenge on March 20 2009 near Amesbury, Wiltshire, England. Several hundred druids and pagans were granted special access to the ancient monument to mark the date in the calender when the length of the day and the night are equal. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

An Afghan girl plays as others gather to celebrate the Afghan New Year in Kabul March 21, 2009. Afghanistan uses the Persian calendar which runs from the vernal equinox. The calendar takes as its start date the time when the Prophet Mohammad moved from Mecca to Medina in 621 AD. The current Persian year is 1388. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

Outside the biological farm Den Hartig in Abcoude, The Netherlands, cows jump around in their meadow, on March 20, 2009. On that day the cows were allowed to go outside for the first time since last autumn. (VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Kurds carry torches up a rocky hill as they celebrate Nowruz in the Kurdish town of Akra, 500km north of Baghdad on March 20, 2009. Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on March 21. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

People stand on top the Pyramid of the Sun at sunrise during the spring equinox in Teotihuacan, Mexico, Saturday, March 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

A woman crouches amongst the daffodils in London's St James' Park to take a photograph, as the capital enjoyed spring sunshine on March 20, 2009. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Masked dancers wear their traditional ritual masks during a festival in the village of Kalipetrovo, north-east of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Saturday, March, 21, 2009. Ritual mask dances are popular in rural Bulgaria with participants dressed in sheepskin garments and wearing scary masks with the intention to drive away the evil spirits or ghosts for the beginning of the spring season. (AP Photo/Petar Petrov)

People attend the spring equinox in front of the Kukulkan Pyramid (or "El Castillo") in Chichen Itza, Mexico, Saturday, March 21, 2009. This Mayan pyramid was built so that the shadows of a corner of the pyramid would fall on a stairway and create the image of an illuminated serpent (visible on the left side). (AP Photo/Israel Leal)

A young skier begins to sink as she tries to skim across a pond during a spring skiing ritual at Pat's Peak ski area in Henniker, New hampshire, Saturday, March 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

A dancer in a national costume performs during festivities marking the holiday of Navruz in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Saturday, March 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Anvar Ilyasov)

Strollers walk through a sea of crocusses in the park of the castle in Husum, northern Germany, as temperatures reached nine degrees Celsius (48.2 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, March 17, 2009. According to a legend, monks in the 15th century planted the first crocusses here, and today some 4.5 million of them blossom here. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)

Dancers perform next to the Pyramid of the Sun during spring equinox in Teotihuacan, Mexico, Saturday, March 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

A U.S. Marine patrols with an opium poppy flower on his helmet on March 19, 2009 near Baqwa in Farah province of southwest Afghanistan. The Marines based at the remote village are battling a Taliban insurgency funded in large part from the multi-billion dollar drug export trade thriving in the south of the country. (John Moore/Getty Images)

A Kazakh woman shows her nomad's tent decorated and furnished for the traditional Nowruz festival, which marks the Kurdish and Iranian New Year, in Baikonur on March 22, 2009. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)

A flock of snow geese fly over Wolf Lodge Bay Wednesday, March 18, 2009 on the east side of Lake Coeur d'Alene near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The birds migrate from their winter area of the western Gulf Coast to their summer range of northern Alaska and arctic Canada for breeding. (AP Photo/Coeur d'Alene Press, Jerome A. Pollos)

The lights shine on Ed Smith Stadium as the Cincinnati Reds play the Boston Red Sox in a spring training baseball game in Sarasota, Fla., Thursday, March 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A squirrel looks around while climbing a tree in a park in central Minsk, Belarus on March 20, 2009. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

New Yorkers are covered in colored powder and dye during Holi, also known as Phagwah, celebrations March 15, 2009 in the Queens borough of New York City. Holi is originally an Indian festival marking the arrival of spring and is also called the Festival of Colors. Many of the New York participants are of Indo-Caribbean descent from Guyana and Trinidad where the festival is known as Phagwah. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A dog stands behind crocuses in full bloom on March 22, 2009 at the Olympic parc in Munich, southern Germany. (JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images)

Sofia Noyes, age 3 1/2, plays ball with her father, Erik Noyes, in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a blustery early spring day, Sunday, March 22, 2009. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

A Happy March Equinox To All!

Spring or Autumn!

but really glad at the moment to be heading towards Spring and Summer :)

!سعيد عيد الأم

!سال نو مبارک

Which Equinox are you experiencing?
How are your celebrating (or not)?
What other celebrations occur for you on this day?
How are you celebrating those?
Since this is World Storytelling Day, what is your favourite story?
Would you like to tell a story  here in the comments? One on the theme of Light and Shadow?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Susanne said...

I love spring! It's great to see life after the "death" of winter. Reminds me of the Resurrection! One of my favorite things is to see flowers pop out in places you thought only dead things were. Color after the drabness of winter - yay!

Soooo many fantastic pictures! Fields of flowers *swoon* ... loved 'em! Great to see even the US Marine get into the spring spirit! :-) Loved the frolicking cow, too! Really, so many wonderful pictures and information!

Thank you!

Chiara said...

Susanne-Thank YOU! I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Others have also expressed their appreciation away from the comments here, but it is great to have you share your appreciation for and ideas about Spring with us.

As you know the Spring as Resurrection is a major religious them in the Easter Passion of Christ, and in throughout the Bible and the literature inspired by it.

More about that a few posts hence! :)

Thanks again for your comment.

Maha Noor Elahi said...

A very interesting and informative post, Chiara!
I think your blog is one of the most professional blogs I've ever visited.
Your choice of pictures is amazing.

I will ask my students to use your posts as a reliable reference for some of their essays.

Thank you for giving us the opportinity to see spring from a global perspective.

Chiara said...

Maha--thank you very much for so many kind words! I am honoured that you would send your students this way. I hope they will comment, share their knowledge, contribute to discussions, and correct anything I may have misunderstood!

Ancient said...

Thank you for a nice post. Please confirm that you are okay with my quoting you at this link..


Chiara said...

Ancient/Satya--thank you very much. I am honoured that this post will be linked, and I hope readers here will also check out your interesting blog on India!


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