When the sun hits my face on my deck March 20, 2021 I will be taking part in my ritual to mark an event celebrated for over 3000 years: the astronomical beginning of spring.
I won’t be watching the sun transform into a feathered serpent on the steps of the giant Mayan pyramid at Chichén Itzá, or seeing the sun-dagger piecing ancient petroglyph spirals at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
The Lakota peoples of North America will be smoking sacred tobacco of red willow bark in a nuanced pipe ceremony that reflects sophisticated understanding of the stars. I will be sipping a secular coffee, proud that I know true East, only because it is the one day when the sun rises exactly there.
Persian families in Iran, Afghanistan, the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, and around the world will be celebrating new life and a new year - Nowruz – with traditional herb-rich foods, picnics and festivities. I will probably have toast; my baking tradition does not kick-in until Easter.
Those of Slavic decent, or anyone hanging out in Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia, might be preparing to burn, or drown, or both, an effigy of Marena/Morana/Marzanna, the ancient Slavic goddess of winter and death. A fun and dramatic way to say ‘Let’s make room for spring, people!
Pagans, and those simply interested, might mark the day with sunrise at Stonehenge.
Clearly the equinox is something primal.
On the Spring Equinox – March 20 at 09:37 UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) to be precise, the sun passes over the equator from south to north, bringing the promise of longer days and warmer temperatures in the global north half, and possible relief of cooler days to the south. Because the sun is centered effectively over the equator, day and night are experienced as almost exactly – give or take a few minutes - the same length everywhere in the world.
That seems pretty cool to me. I like the idea that from the early humans, who were intensely in touch with the passage of the sun, to now - when the average person is much less aware of natural surroundings - there remains something special about these 24 hours of symmetry between longer and shorter, colder and warmer, darker and lighter. It is like a pause, a balance point before we teeter over into one side or the other of the seasonal transition. Across the globe, and across history, it is something we share.
The morning of the Spring Equinox my ritual will be modest in comparison to ancient or modern celebrations. I will pull my iPhone from my TuckTop and snap a pic to capture the magic. Then I will sip my coffee with a smile, immense gratitude, and a whole lot of awe - and go on with my day.