Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Has Sprung

Brian

With the dawning of the vernal equinox, spring is upon us. Today was the day when the sun, forever traversing a geographic sine wave from the perspective of earth's residents, passed the equator on its way north for summer. It wasn't the day that makes it easier to balance an egg on its end; when I was eleven, I managed to do it with a steady hand on the vernal equinox, but also on other random days of the year as well.

The word "spring" comes from Middle English, from Old English springan; akin to Old High German springan, "to jump," and perhaps to Greek sperchesthai, "to hasten." It's the same as the verb "to spring," which implies that the season is springing forth, like the saplings and daffodils that mark its arival. Winter is a static, iced-over season, long, frozen, and outside of time. Spring is dynamic—it's an event that happens, not just a period you wait through.

From one corner of the world to another, cultures celebrate the start of spring. Catholics celebrate Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or their big brother, Carnaval, and then, forty days later, Easter, marking the cyclical end of Jesus' mortal life with dancing, feasting, and candy. Jews have Purim, which lets them drink themselves merry while contemplating the salvation of the Persian Jews from the plot of the evil Haman, and the symbolic eating of food at the Passover Seder. For the Chinese, the equinox is the middle of spring, which began with the Lunar New Year's parade and fireworks. A large part of the bacchanalian celebrations we attach to significant historical events is actually based on the seasonal changes that accompany them; we're all pagans at heart.

Indexed by tags spring, winter, season, vernal equinox, egg, etymology, Catholic, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnaval, Jewish, Purim, Passover, Seder, China, Chinese New Year.
Image credits: Allegory of Gluttony and Lust, Hieronymus Bosch, 1450.

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