How celebrating Spring unites the world
The new season is a traditional chance to give thanks – whichever (if any) god you follow
Here in the UK, some of us are looking forward to chocolate eggs or – if we are lucky – more substantial treats wrapped up in gold paper, brought by a bunny on Easter Sunday. Others may simply be anticipating with quiet pleasure the chance to acknowledge the most important date in the Christian calendar with prayer. Everyone can delight in the first signs of Spring: crocuses and tulips, longer days, bird song and cerulean skies.
I find it comforting to think that all over the world humans are finding ways to celebrate the season of rebirth. In Iran, locals will celebrate Nowruz, a festival with its roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion. Over 13 days, Iranians extensively clean their homes, purchase new clothing, pay visits to family and friends, and set out a symbolic spring meal called Haft seen. The festival culminates in family picnics on the 13th day, as a symbolic renunciation of the bad luck we all typically associate with number 13.
In South Asia, Hindu revellers celebrate Holi – the Festival of Colours – throwing coloured powders and water at each other. In Thailand, the three-day Songkran Water festival in April marks the New Year with a massive public water fight, meant to represent a cleansing of negative influences.
The Lantern Festival in the Chinese calendar marks the return of Spring and symbolises the reunion of family. This festival dates back at least 2,000 years, and celebrants enjoy lanterns (of course), riddles, eating tangyuan (dumplings in soup), lion dances and dragon dances.
The common link in our festivals – apart from spending warm time with family and eating delicious food – is how we seem to need this moment of reflection and renewal before we plunge into the year properly with all its demands.
Like the earth beneath our feet, we have been battered by the long, cold nights of winter. We have hibernated or simply tucked ourselves away like small mammals faced with high winds and icy rain. We cannot simply step into summer without marking the transition, and perhaps offering gratitude for our survival to count another year.
I like the idea that this is an ancient and almost irresistibly human need.
Not least, because all across the world, we know there are other mortals facing war, famine, illness and terrorist attack, so indelibly brought to mind recently by the terrible attacks in Brussels, Istanbul and many other places. We can acknowledge their fear and tragedy but we cannot help them all.
Yet we can remember as we step into another Spring that we are all humans, and those passions which unite us – our shared past on this planet, our hopes for a sun-filled future – are greater than the terrors that seek to divide us.
Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation