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March Equinox Traditions and Events

Published 17-Mar-2008. Changed 6-Feb-2009

The March equinox coincides with many cultural events, religious observances and customs. Usually falling on March 20 or March 21, it is a time when the sun shines directly on the equator and day and night are almost equal across the world. It is also a time when many cultures observe rituals, customs or holidays, especially in the northern hemisphere where it is spring.

The equinox customs

Easter occurs after the March equinox

©iStockphoto.com/Katherine Moffitt

Easter

Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, according to Christian belief. The Easter date depends on the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox. In 325CE the Council of Nicaea decided that the Easter date would be the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the March equinox. Easter is therefore delayed one week if the full moon is on Sunday, which lessens the likelihood of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover.

Higan

Higan, or Higan-e, is a week of Buddhist services observed in Japan during both the spring and autumn equinoxes when day and night are equal at length. Both equinoxes have been national holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912). Before World War II, they were known as koreisai, or festivals of the Imperial ancestors. After the war, when the national holidays were renamed, they became simply spring and autumn equinoxes.

Higan is a one-week period surrounding the spring and autumn equinoxes. It means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana after crossing the river of existence. It celebrates the spiritual move from the world of suffering to the world of enlightenment and is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning and decorating their graves and reciting sutras. Buddhist prayers, rice balls and sushi are offered. This is a time for the Japanese to worship their imperial ancestors and to welcome spring.

The Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday

The Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday (Mawlid An-Nabi) falls on March 20 in 2008. Mawlid, or Milad, marks the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammed, or Mohamed, in the year 570 of the Gregorian calendar. Mawlid is a public holiday in many Islamic countries.

Nowruz (No-Ruz)

The Iranian start of the New Year (Nowruz, No-Ruz, No-Rooz or No Ruz) occurs during the time of the March equinox, in accordance with the Persian astronomical calendar The No-Ruz celebration of spring lasts for about 12 days and dates back to pre-Islamic times. Preparations begin well in advance and include purchasing new clothes for all family members and thoroughly cleaning homes. Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. Oil Nationalization Day in Iran also falls on March 20.

Tunisian National Day

In Tunisia, March 20 is Independence Day. Following World War II, Tunisia experienced a surge of nationalism and in 1956 France signed a treaty to recognize the country’s full independence.

Earth Day

Some organizations schedule Earth Day around the time of the March equinox while others set the date for April 22. For some, Earth Day is when people from all nations, religions and cultural backgrounds celebrate their similarities: living on earth. For others, Earth Day is observed to promote the protection the natural environment from pollution and other destructive forces. Earth Day activities include planting trees, cleaning roadside rubbish and conducting recycling and conservation programs. Earth day was first observed in 1970.

Back Badge Day

Back Badge Day falls on March 21, which in some years is the date of the March equinox. It is celebrated by the British Army’s Gloucestershire Regiment, whose men wear a badge on the back as well as the front of their caps. They have done so since March 21, 1801, when the Battle of Alexandria was fought. The men were ordered to stand back to back, facing away from the charging French cavalry until the enemy were almost upon them. They then turned and fired, causing the French to retreat in disorder.

Other Observances

The Bahá’í New Year is also celebrated on March 21, which is the date of the March equinox in some years, such as 2003 and 2007.

In the northern hemisphere the March equinox marks the start of spring and has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth. It is an ancient Chinese custom to balance eggs – a symbol of fertility – on the day of the March equinox to bring good luck and prosperity.

According to Jewish tradition, God made the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation – and once every 28 years the sun returns to the same astronomical position that it held that day. The Talmud says that the turning point of this cycle occurs at the March equinox.

Spring-cleaning in many countries occurs around the time of the March equinox, or the beginning of spring. It is a time set aside for cleaning homes and storing or giving away old furniture or items that are no longer used. The term “spring-cleaning” relates to the act of thoroughly cleaning a place.

timeanddate.com has tried to cover a range of events that occur around the March equinox but not every event or culture is included in this article. Also, any reference to spring in this article refers to spring in the northern hemisphere unless otherwise stated.

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