“Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s party!'” -Robin Williams
BY Summers McKay
For as long as I can remember, Easter has been my favorite celebration. Growing up Catholic, the holiday offered a meaningful and poignant ritual imbued with reflection, the excitement of rebirth, and a commitment to compassionate renewal. It meant a joyful gathering of friends and family, pastel-colored decorations and flowery dresses, hidden eggs, mysterious and magical bunnies, and the true end of winter. I celebrated Easter nearly every year with my extended family, and the experience of multi-generational coming together, laughing, and learning from those magical people we call grandparents was a perfect start to something new.
My Mima was the epitome of Lenten grace. She gave up her beloved sweets during the 40 some-odd days before Easter each year, and watching her delight as she unwrapped her rich chocolate and candied eggs on that sparkling Sunday was always better than eating the treats myself. I have always loved the optimism of budding spring flowers, the earlier rising sun, the later nights, and the trill-song of nesting birds chirping opinions to one another in the yard. Blessed to live near open space and access to nature, and able to observe the reinvigoration of spring, my memories of Easter are magic. As I grew and embraced the wider world, I learned to also love many other rituals of spring that stem from other religions, cultures, and experiences.
This year, my family and I have had a challenging winter. Like many homes, due to our world’s changing climate, old building technologies are no longer appropriate for the extreme seasons we now experience in different regions. Our home suffered a catastrophic weather-related event. Our home was flooded from a pipe that broke during a winter freeze and forced us to abruptly, unceremoniously vacate our house in a matter of days. Everything had to be moved out almost overnight, including treasures from my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. As a mother to a toddler, I somehow had to make the transition fun and not scary, joyous and not horrible, even as I suppressed my own overwhelmed feelings. Her beloved and now destroyed bathtub went to the “bathtub doctor,” the cozy couch where we’d watched our first Disney movies together, now soaked through, went to the “couch doctor.” Somehow, the turmoil of moving out became a game for my little one. As traumatic as it was, I had one goal – not to pass the trauma to her. Who knows if I succeeded. And thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a neighbor, we found somewhere to live that is safe, beautiful, and will be the perfect place for our scaled-back Easter.
Watching our dream home be ripped apart by crews of hard-working people in an attempt to remediate the damage and stop the water from causing more damage was heart-wrenching. It was also, somehow, perversely beautiful. In destruction, there is optimism. Without destruction, there would not be reconstruction.
And our pain is nothing compared to the challenges of the world this past winter season. The intense geopolitical turmoil, war, pandemic, and the heartbreaking losses they have all caused make it more important than ever that we take a moment to believe in the optimism of Easter and all the global celebrations surrounding the Northern Hemisphere’s celebrations of spring. This is a time of year when the world both reflects and celebrates. Celebrations of Spring predate modern times as spring itself is a pillar of optimism. Humanity needs optimism. So, I’d like to take a moment to share with you just a few of the ways rebirth, joy, and growth are celebrated around the world.
The beginning of Spring is marked by the spring equinox and is celebrated by many with a day to honor new beginnings, rebirth, fertility, and renewal. Falling on March 20th every year, Ostara comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess name, Eostre – who represents spring and all new beginnings. The word, which has lent itself to other celebrations of the season, including Easter, is aligned with symbols like rabbits, eggs, and seeds. A pagan, or Wiccan celebration, Ostara usually is celebrated by outdoor gatherings with song, meditation, and the planting of seeds at the beginning of the agricultural season.
The Spring Equinox, a day when the sun’s center crosses the Earth’s equator and results in a day with light and dark in nearly equal length, has long been celebrated in Native-American cultures across both continents and offered a calendar marking seasonal transitions. For the native Lakota of the U.S. Midwest, the vernal equinox launched not only a seasonal migration to the Black Hills of South Dakota but also a series of ceremonies welcoming life on Earth and returning souls that have departed to rest in the Milky Way.
Holi is a Hindu festival celebrated worldwide in Indian communities. Known as the Festival of Color, it is celebrated over two days concurrent with the full moon in March. The joyous religious celebration recounts the Hindu story of Lord Vishnu and his triumph over the evil King Hiranyakashipu. A celebration of the eternal and divine love of Rhada Krishna, Holi brings together communities in a celebration of spring, friendship, family, and joy. Communities gather in the streets to throw bright-colored powder and splash each other with colored water. Red, green, and yellow colors dust the air, each carrying its own meaning.
Families gather and share traditions, food, and sweets, and decorate their homes with bright spring colors. Communities throughout the world are joining together in Holi celebrations. This year my own daughter’s school in Austin, TX put on a Holi festival, and a month later my daughter keeps asking to go back to the Holi celebration.
Ramadan does not always fall in the Spring, as it is in the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar which follows a lunar cycle. This year it falls during the same season as Easter. Ramadan is a month-long celebration of fasting, reflection, and community during which time Muslims are committed to seeking a closer relationship with God, Allah. Food or drink is not consumed between sunrise and sunset, and the daily fasts are broken with ritual and community celebrations and feasts. Not only is it a period of fasting, but Ramadan also requires a commitment to charitable acts, during which time if someone asks for an act of kindness or generosity during the month, the faithful must do their best to be of service.
One of the most joyous parts of this challenging celebration is the community experience of breaking the fast and the tremendous meals that are shared including a delicious food called haleem, a delicious stew is enjoyed in many parts of the Muslim world and usually is made with wheat or lentils but can also include chicken.
Ramadan ends with another celebration called Eid al-Fitr, also known as “the breaking of the fast.” It is a day of prayer, gatherings, and, to honor the commitment and fasting of the past month, it is a day when you have to eat.
Passover (also called Pesach) is a major Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is a weeklong festival with several important rituals including the Passover Seder, celebrated on the first night of Passover, a traditional family meal, the removal of leavened products from home, and the retelling of the exodus tale.
For many Jews, the process of preparing for Passover involves a deep cleaning and clearing of their homes followed by a unique meal with symbolic ingredients including, maror (bitter herbs), charoset (sweet paste of fruit and nuts), zeroh (shank bone), beitzah (hard-boiled eggs), and karpas (leafy green vegetables). All these ingredients tie to the retelling of the exodus story and are based on a meaningful tradition of overcoming obstacles for new beginnings.
Easter, also called Pascha, has perhaps received the widest commercialization in the Western world as a celebration of brunches, mimosas, eggs, bunnies, hats, and dresses. This holiday holds its historic tradition as the most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days following his death by crucifixion. For many Christian churches, Easter is the joyous end to the Lenten season of fasting and penitence and is held in the Western Church between March 21 and April 25 on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox. Orthodox Easter takes place between April 4 and May 8 following the first full moon after Passover.
In both instances, families and communities come together to celebrate rebirth, renewal, and the promise of new life from spring with many of the symbols and rituals shared by the other holidays.
Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is celebrated as a public holiday with bank and business closures in some countries, including the UK.
These celebrations are similar in many ways, and all have a commitment to joy. We are reminded that we are one world, and we are in it together with optimism.