After months of bitter cold and darkness (especially in the north this year), we think spring will never come. We long to be outside without the constraint of heavy coats and boots, but winter persists. And then one day the new season arrives. Streets and parks are filled with people seeking warmth and light and enjoying the longer days. Our senses are stirred.
Spring is the time when cultures around the world celebrate the possibility of new growth and fresh beginnings. In fact, the new year was originally celebrated in March and early April, and anyone who didn’t realize it was considered an “April fool.”
Today millions of people celebrate this season by deeply reconnecting to nature. We take trips to see the tulips or cherry blossoms in bloom. In April we observe Arbor Day by planting trees, and on Earth Day we clean our parks, riverbanks, and wilderness areas.
Every culture, past and present, celebrates the promise and fertility of spring with sacred rituals. In Rome, the lengthening of the day that followed the vernal (spring) equinox was marked by sacrifices to celebrate the death and rebirth of Attis, the god of vegetation. Goddesses of fertility—the Greeks’ Aphrodite, the Native Americans’ Spider Woman, Mexico’s Tonantizin, Africa’s Oshun, Norway’s Freya, and Rome’s Flora—were all honored in the spring.
Not surprisingly, the egg—the universal symbol of rebirth—finds its way into many different types of spring rituals. In ancient Persia, Greece, Egypt, and Rome, red eggs, representing life and rebirth, were given as gifts during the spring. At Passover Seders, guests dip eggs in salt water as a reminder of the sacrifices made in the ancient temples. In the Greek Orthodox Church, guests sitting around the dinner table tap eggs with their neighbor, the way one would clink glasses when making a toast. If your egg doesn’t crack, it’s considered good luck for the coming year.
In southern Italy eggs are baked into cakes, and in Sardinia the Easter bread was baked into the form of a snake wrapped around a bright red hard-boiled egg.
In our modern-day celebrations of Easter, children all over the world decorate eggs. Every year, an annual Easter Egg Roll is held on the White House lawn.
May Day is still celebrated in England and other countries, where people decorate with flowers, play music, and dance around a maypole adorned with brightly colored ribbons. Every year, a lucky girl is crowned Queen of the May. I even celebrated on my roof in New York City.
One of my favorite legends says that if you bathe your face in the early-morning dew of spring, you will have beauty all year long. Get up early one morning and try it!
And here’s another spring ritual you can try:
The “Indoors and Out” Ritual for Spring
“If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on
your face and the warm sun on your hand.”
Part One—Indoors: Release the heaviness of winter by cleaning out your home. In ancient Rome, women cleaned their house in honor of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Get up early and gather clothes, toys, books, and other items that clutter up your space. Donate them to a shelter, school, or needy family. Include your children. This is a great way to create the space for “new life” to emerge and reinforce the idea that giving is a blessing. When you’re finished, you’ll feel lighter and the energy in your home and life will be changed. Purify your space by burning sage or copal. Open all the windows and let the fresh air in.
Part Two—Outdoors: Go to a place in nature. It can be a park, the beach, or someone’s back yard. Create an altar with spring flowers. In ancient times the gods and goddesses were honored by gifts of flowers. Sit on the earth and offer up a prayer to her for sustaining you through the winter.
Then create a garland, a symbol used and worn in rituals all around the world, from India to England. They are given as a sign of love and devotion to teachers, family members, and friends. You can make one for someone in your life with daisies or other flowers, or weave the flowers together to create a crown. Use your imagination as you decorate it, adding ribbons or other items to make it uniquely your own. Try adding a bit of rosemary or mint to enhance the scent. If you’re really ambitious, buy a special needle used to create Hawaiian leis. Sew the blossoms together for something truly special.
As you give your garland and place it around your recipient’s neck, be aware that you are honoring the Divine source as well as affirming the “new life force”—the resurrection of life over the darkness and decay of winter.
Now is the time for singing and dancing. Play an instrument or put on an inspirational CD. End by having a picnic of spring foods you have chosen.
I would like to leave you with one more spring ritual. In her book Magical Gardens (Llewellyn Publications), Patricia Monaghan suggests writing wishes for the season on ribbons, then using the ribbons to tie bouquets of flowers. I love doing this and giving the flowers to friends and even strangers I meet at this time of year. And as I do, I’m reminded of the early peace marches in New York, where we gave out daffodils to strangers as a sign of peace and hope for the world.