Spring is seen by many as the season of renewal, rebirth, new beginnings, hope, love, beauty, allergies. Maybe not the last one…though pollen counts will tell you otherwise. Throughout the world, people celebrate the arrival of spring with a variety of festivities and traditions that are meaningful to each country’s specific culture. We’re going to take a look at some of the most interesting, colorful, beautiful, and symbolic ways that the world celebrates spring! Here are 12 spring traditions from around the world.
- Baba Marta Day (Bulgaria), March 1: Though this Bulgarian tradition is celebrated before the actual vernal (spring) equinox, Baba Marta Day symbolizes the end of winter every March 1. Translated to English, Baba Marta means Grandmother March, and she personifies the month of March in Bulgaria. There are various legends surrounding Baba Marta Day, but one popular version is that she arrives to dispose of her miserable brothers January and February because they drank her wine. Understandable.
Bulgarian citizens celebrate Baba Marta Day with a token of Baba Marta, called a martenitsa (martenitsi plural). These most often come in the form of a red and white yarn bracelet sold in Bulgarian shops and presented to one another by friends and family. Whether it’s a bracelet or another type of martenitsa, the colors red and white are always prominent–because in Bulgaria, red symbolizes life or birth and white represents newness and cleansing. Put together, the colors symbolize rebirth or starting anew. Just like spring. The martenitsi are meant to be worn from the time you receive it as a gift until you notice the first signs of spring. At that point, the martenitsa is traditionally placed onto a flowering tree or hidden under a rock. One of the beautiful and memorable sights of a Bulgarian spring is the many martenitsi hanging from trees.
- Las Fallas (Valencia, Spain), March 15-19: To commemorate the arrival of spring on March 19, carpenters in the city of Valencia, Spain, used to burn pieces of wood (known as parots) that were used to prop up their lights during the winter. Gradually, old belongings and rags were added to the bonfire, giving the wooden structure the faint appearance of a human. But before we get into those, let’s look at Las Fallas from start to finish.
While the actual festival doesn’t begin until March 15, celebrations commence on the 1st of March with mascaleta. This essentially consists of a whole lot of loud fireworks and explosions that occur at 2:00 pm (local time) in Valencia’s Plaza del Ayuntamiento every day from March 1 through March 19. Once March 15 arrives, the festivities really begin. On that date, the fallas commissions spend the entire night setting up fallas monuments in Valencia that are to be judged the following morning. The winners are awarded with prizes on March 17–but out of the more than 750 monuments that are erected, only one is spared from burning…the ninot induldat.
Before the burning begins, however, Spaniards and visitors are treated to a spectacular light and color show at midnight between March 15 and 18, courtesy of amazing fireworks displays at Alameda. These culminate with a prime pyrotechnic performance in the early morning hours of March 18, known as the Nit del Foc. Concurrently, on March 17 and 18, the Fallas commissions of Valencia parade through the streets to the Plaza de la Virgen between 4:00 pm until nightfall for a flower offering to the patron saint of Valencia–Virgen de los Desamparados. The collected flowers from Flower Ofrenda form a nearly 50-foot-high structure that represents the Virgen’s cape–a stunning experience for the eyes and the nose.
On March 19 comes the grand finale–The Crema. This is when all fallas monuments are burned. And while it may be a bit sad to see these impressive works of art burnt to the ground, the display is amazing. Smaller monuments go first, followed by the larger ones. Around 10:30 pm, the first-prize-winner is burned, and finally, the giant monument at Plaza del Ayuntaimento is set ablaze at 11:00 pm.
While a feast for the senses, Las Fallas is not a celebration for the faint of heart. Witnesses often describe it as, well, indescribably loud. Pregnant women are supposedly forbidden from attending due to health concerns. And people have been known to be injured or faint during the literal earth-shaking festivities. That said, this UNESCO heritage festival that ushers in spring is a satirical sensory overload that shouldn’t be missed.
- Holi (India and Nepal), March 17-18: While Las Fallas may take the prize for most spectacular spring festival, Holi surely owns the title for most colorful. One of the most revered festivals in India, Holi (also known as the “festival of love”) is celebrated throughout most of the country (though the celebrations may differ slightly based on region) with people uniting in the name of forgiveness and positivity. Holi begins in the evening of Purnima (Full Moon Day) in the month of Phalguna (the 12th month of the Hindu calendar) with the lighting of a bonfire the day before–this event, called Holika dahan, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. On the day of Holi, color takes over–especially in northern and western India.
That day, citizens of all ages hit the streets and go color-crazy! They smear each other with wet and dry paint. They shower each other in colored powders and water. They dance. They sing. They eat and drink. They soak each other with water guns and balloons. All in the name of celebrating the end of winter and the start of spring! But, as with most traditions like Holi, this celebration is based on legend.
This legend involves Holika, a female demon and sister of the demon king Hiranyakashayap, who was believed to be the ruler of the universe and superior to all gods. Hiranyakashayap’s son, Prahlada, defied his parents, however, and followed Lord Vishnu. This left Prahlada’s father to collaborate with Holika to kill his son by having her sit in a raging fire with Prahlada on her lap (she wore a magic shawl that resisted fire)–but Prahlada managed to escape death thanks to the magic shawl landing on his shoulders, and Holika died in a fire. Vishnu then arrived to kill Hiranyakashayap. Good over evil.
- Nowruz (Central Asia), March 20: Also known as the Persian New Year, Nowruz celebrates the arrival of spring–and a new year–in Central Asian countries such as Iran, Iraq, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Nowruz literally translates to “new day”, and it’s a holiday that marks the arrival of spring and the first day of a new year in Iran, whose solar calendar begins with the spring equinox. This tradition has been followed for more than 3,000 years, beginning with an ancient Persian religion’s feast day that celebrated the beginning of spring as a victory over darkness (or good over evil…see a pattern here?)
Symbolizing new life and the rebirth of nature, Nowruz traditionally begins with celebrants cleaning (like, really cleaning) their homes a few weeks before the actual celebration day. During that time, families also reserve a space in their homes for a haft-seen, a collection of items that symbolize different hopes for the new year. These include:
- Sabzeh: A sprout or grass that will continue to grow in the weeks leading up to the holiday, for rebirth and renewal
- Senjed: Dried fruit, for love
- Sib: Apples, for beauty and health
- Seer: Garlic, for medicine and taking care of oneself
- Samanu: A sweet pudding, for wealth and fertility
- Serkeh: Vinegar, for the patience and wisdom that comes with aging
- Sumac: A Persian spice made from crushed sour red berries, for the sunrise of a new day
These haft-seen (which translates to “seven S’s”) objects can vary, but the objects chosen generally keep with the traditional hopes.
Once the big day arrives, it marks the start of 13 days of celebration that include family visits and dinners as well as reflections on the year ahead. The last Tuesday before Nowruz is known as shab-e chahar shanbeh suri, which involves building public bonfires and leaping over them. During the celebration, children also visit their family elders to pay their respects and receive gifts, all while families indulge in plenty of food.
As Caroline Framke, an Iranian-American journalist, so eloquently put it: “Nowruz is less about a single day than a general celebration of being able to wipe away the dust, grime, and sadness of the old in order to start anew. It’s about closing the door on one chapter and turning the page to the next one with excitement instead of trepidation. It’s about the endless possibilities that come with a blank slate. The hope of being able to start new, and better, is about as universal as they come — which might explain why Nowruz hasn’t just survived through generation upon generation of tumult and prosperity alike, but thrived.”
- Spring Equinox Celebrations (Mexico), March 20: Mexico just might be the place to go if you want to celebrate the arrival of spring. All around the country, celebrations are held to welcome the spring equinox, including:
- Chichen Itza: The fabled Mayan city of Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was named one of the 7 New Wonders of the World in 2007. With good reason–the ruins are spectacular, especially the Kukulcan (Quetzcoatl) Pyramid known as El Castillo (The Castle) on the day of the spring equinox. The pyramid was constructed in a way that, during every equinox, the late afternoon sun creates the illusion of a serpent creeping down the northern staircase. This snake symbolizes the joining of the heavens, earth, and the underworld, day and night.
- Teotihuacan: This holy city located about 30 miles from Mexico City is a destination spot for the spring equinox. Why? Well, one reason is the gorgeous view of the sun rising over the Apan Mountains. Another is the celebration of the sun from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, which visitors climb (360 steps) between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm–while at the top, with their arms outstretched, they ask the gods for health and energy. Others dance, chant, and burn incense in commemoration of the first day of spring.
- El Templo Mayor: The Great Temple (literal translation) in Mexico City is where the gods instructed the Aztecs to create the capital of the Mexican Empire, Tenochtitlan. And the Aztecs took the spring equinox seriously, observing it as a day of religion and symbolism. El Templo Mayor was constructed with two towers–one for the god Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, sun, and human sacrifice; the other was for the deity Tlaloc, the god of rain, water, lightning, and agriculture. On the day of the spring equinox, as the sun rose, its rays shined precisely between the two towers, creating a memorable scene for anyone who witnessed it.
- Cherry Blossom Festivals (Japan), approximately March 20-April 17: Some of the most beautiful–yet short-lived–celebrations in the world include the cherry blossom festivals (also known as hanami or Sakura-Matsuri) in Japan…though many countries around the world partake in similar celebrations, including the famous National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. Why short-lived? Because cherry blossom tree flowers only bloom for about two weeks! The entire country pays close attention to the trees, and as soon as those blooms show, Japanese citizens are ready to party! These cherry blossom festivals generally don’t have set days–it all depends on when the trees bloom, which generally occurs between March and May.
The tradition of hanami is believed to have originated sometime around the eighth century. While today’s festivals are held under cherry blossom trees, the original celebrations took place beneath plum trees. Today, people across Japan celebrate the cherry blossoms in places such as Hirosaki Park, Uneo Park, Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden, the Meguro River, and Mitsuike Park by gathering underneath the trees and enjoying food, drinks, and each other.
- Cimburijada (Bosnia), March 21: This literally translates to “Festival of Scrambled Eggs.” Seriously. The town of Zenica in Bosnia welcomes the first day of spring with a giant community meal of scrambled eggs by the banks of the Bosna River. Residents and visitors gather under tents while giant bowls of scrambled eggs are prepared. Then everyone gets together to eat, drink, enjoy music, and bask in the new spring season. Why eggs? You probably guessed it–eggs symbolize the birth of new life (rebirth), a common theme among many spring celebrations.
- Songkran Water Festival (Thailand), April 13-15: Water holds significant spiritual meaning in Thailand. The Thai people believe that water is spiritually purifying, cleansing you of bad luck from the past year and blessing you with happiness and good fortune for the year ahead. That’s one reason behind the world-renowned Songkran Water Festival in Thailand. Held each April, traditionally occurring on the day the sun changes position in the zodiac, the festival originated with local people collecting water that had been poured over Buddha statues for cleansing. That water was then used to bless village elders and family members by trickling it over their shoulders. Times have changed since then.
Today, the Songkran Water Festival is more like a giant, country-wide water fight. In some areas, streets are blocked off from traffic so Thai citizens can soak each other by any means necessary–with huge cannon-like water guns, hoses, buckets, coolers, or any other vessel that can hold water. And the thing is, everyone seems to love it! It probably helps that April is Thailand’s hottest month, so being doused from all directions is probably quite refreshing. The heat certainly doesn’t stop people of all ages from dancing on the streets, gleefully soaking passersby while loud music shakes the sidewalks. The Thai people also derive much joy from smearing clay on others’ faces–a friendly gesture that symbolizes a happy new year.
- Bloemencorso (Flower Parade) Bollenstreek (Holland), April 23: While the Netherlands is world-renowned for its gorgeous tulip fields, the Flower Parade of the Bollenstreek in Holland showcases a much wider variety of flora, beyond the traditional tulips. Each spring, a procession of vibrant and creative floats filled with hyacinths, narcissi, and tulips (of course) parades through Holland’s “flower-bulb region”, accompanied by music and other entertainment. Each car in the parade is decorated with enormous–and incredibly colorful–flower bouquets crafted in the shape of objects for citizens and tourists to enjoy. In fact, this event typically draws nearly a million visitors every year!
The procession stretches 42 kilometers (approximately 26 miles) from the town of Noordwijk to Haarlem, winding its way through colorful (and aromatic) fields of flowers as well as quaint villages. Along the route, stands are set up for the center for public viewing–and if you’re keen on seeing how these impressive floats and bouquets are created, you can visit the town center of Noordwijkerhout the day before the parade; this is where all of the cars and floats are constructed, and you can see for yourself how the magic is made. Once the parade arrives in Haarlem, the floats remain on display the entire next day for spectators to admire and photograph.
- Sechseläuten (Switzerland), April 25: This is truly one of the most interesting spring festivals in the world. Each year, to celebrate the arrival of spring in Zurich, Switzerland, thousands of people gather, first to watch a parade of more than 2,000 children dressed in historical costumes accompany the Böögg (more on this in a moment) to Sechseläutenplatz. Once that parade has passed, more than 3,000 guild members dressed in elaborate costumes parade through the Old Town, complete with music ensembles, riders on horseback, and parade floats in tow. Spectators shower the participants in flowers along the way, until the big moment arrives for the Böögg. So, about the Böögg?
What, exactly, is the Böögg? Well, it’s the star of the show, for one. The Böögg is essentially an 11-foot-tall snowman-like figure that is placed atop a huge pyre. At exactly 6:00 pm on Sechseläuten, the pyre is set ablaze. And you can probably guess the target of the giant fire…yes, the Böögg. Its burning symbolizes the driving out of winter in order to welcome spring. Up until 6:00 pm, onlookers can place bets on how long it will take for the Böögg’s head to explode–and it literally explodes with a loud bang! At that point, those who have gathered in the square to witness the Böögg’s demise commence with an unofficial–but extremely lively–barbecue of sorts by grilling sausages in the embers of the bonfire. And the party continues with nearby bars and restaurants providing a festive atmosphere for visitors, as guilds visit each other in their guild halls, all dressed in their costumes and accompanied by lanterns and music.
- Tulip Time (Holland, Michigan), May 7-15 / Canadian Tulip Festival (Ottawa, Ontario), May 13-23: These overlapping tulip extravaganzas offer much more than simply gazing at the beautiful blooms. The Tulip Time celebration encompasses the entire town of Holland, Michigan, where guests can not only view the pretty tulips (for free!), but they’re also able to partake in plenty of fun activities such as Dutch dances, a carnival, walking tours, tall ship tours, a run, an art exhibition, a quilt show, an artisan market, and various musical and theatrical performances.
The Canadian Tulip Festival, held in the capital of Ottawa’s Commissioners Park, offers similar fun and entertainment, including walking tours, a stunning blacklight “tulips at night” event, tulip bingo, movies, and an incredible grand finale fireworks display. There is plenty of history here, too–the Canadian Tulip Festival celebrates the tulips that were gifted to the country by the Netherlands in an appreciative gesture to Canadian soldiers for helping to liberate the Netherlands and other parts of Europe after World War II in 1953. Additionally, the Tulip Festival commemorates the birth of Dutch Princess Margriet in Ottawa during World War II—the only royal ever born in Canada.
- Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake (Gloucester, England), June 5: We’ve saved perhaps the craziest spring tradition for last. Each spring, during the second bank holiday weekend (though it’s been pushed back one week for 2022), visitors from all over the world gather at Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, England–about an hour away from Bristol. The purpose? To catch a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese that’s sent rolling down Cooper’s Hill. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this rolling wheel of cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour–and humans, well, they don’t. So, this leaves a mass of humanity (dozens of participants) tossing themselves and being tossed by gravity down the very steep hill, on top of and over and into each other, in order to be the first one to cross the finish line…after the cheese wheel, of course. All while spectators line the hill and cheer or laugh, or both. The prize? The 8-lb wheel of cheese that they were chasing. And the pride of being crowned the champion of one of the oddest contests on the planet.
As you can probably predict, this sight (while kind of hilarious) is not pretty. Cheese-wheel grabbers have been known to emerge bloody, bruised, and broken after the event, which has to be seen to be believed. You may be surprised to learn that this tradition has been upheld for centuries–though the origin is not entirely clear. There are a couple of popular theories…one is that the event can be traced back to ancient Roman times of the 15th century, when the Romans had a fort established at the top of Cooper’s Hill and allegedly sent objects down the hill. Another theory: the race for the cheese evolved from some type of requirement necessary for maintaining grazing rights. Yet another story is that the tradition began in the early 1800s to celebrate the turn of winter as well as a fresh batch of crops. Knowing the common themes among all of these spring festivals, this theory would seem to be the most realistic.
How will you be celebrating Spring and teaching your children about the changing of the seasons? Let us know your plans for any upcoming spring field trips in the comments below!