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  • Ben Hellman

Daylight for the Win; A Folklorist’s Notebook Celebrating Equinox

Updated: Mar 27


An arrival of daffodils in our yard in Southern New Hampshire, March 19. Photo by my wife, who helped uncover them a bit yesterday.


In just hours our daily allotments of light and darkness will balance precariously for a moment and then tumble in the direction of the sun. It is the spring equinox, and it will occur at 5:37 a.m. EDT. If you are awake, you will have sixty seconds to be aware of the actual moment. Or you can choose to enjoy it all day. It is the first day of spring, a day of equal day and night that heralds longer days to come.


I’ve made a more conscious effort to note the solar holidays since I began writing this blog. They are the traditional holidays of the year, celebrated and observed by our ancestors in preindustrial times, when the light of the day governed so much of what they could do. The time of the year also determined the sorts of activities they engaged in as they were more tied to the raising of animals and crops for food. I feel that I benefit by stopping to observe not only the changes of the seasons, but the midpoints that herald their coming. The sun is the great reality that all life shares.


Early Morning Deer

Deer venturing into the fields at dawn. By author on March 16 in Merrimac, Massachusetts.


This particular solar holiday has special interest to me because it is my birthday. I felt excited when I first saw “First Day of Spring” on a calendar page on my birth date. It seemed special, to confer a mythological dimension to my life. I still feel that way. The day is traditionally cold in New England. I spent many birthdays arguing that I should be able to play outside in shirtsleeves. I would slowly grow disavowed of that determination until finally, I came in, chilled to the bone.


This month had an association with traditions that have attached themselves to Christian Easter: fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits. Easter takes its name from a goddess figure and the month named for her: Eostre; Ēosturmōnaþ (Eostre’s Month). Eostre was likely a dawn goddess. Her name rings similar to the Greek goddess of the rosy-fingered dawn: Eos; also of the East, where the sun rises. I have researched Eostre before, but there is never as much to know about Old English divinities and their Germanic cousins as I would like. So let me speculate. All seasons are reflections of relative sunlight, the coming or leaving of the light. It seems fitting to celebrate a goddess of the dawn in this season. Perhaps the particular timing of the equinox this year provides us the opportunity to celebrate the moment of balance and the dawn, an hour or so later.


Nowruz: Persian New Year

An Iranian Haftsin (هفت‌سین‎) table, traditional for the Persian celebration of New Year, Nowruz. Haftsin means "seven S’s" and in Farsi, each of the objects on a Haftsin start with the letter S and symbolize hopes and wishes for a happy new year. (From Share.America.gov).


In Iran and for Persian peoples around the world, tomorrow is New Year, Nowruz. I like the Persian New Year because (unlike the western New Year) it is positioned in a time of significant seasonal change. (Of course, it is also my birthday!) But the western New Year is in the dead of winter. It’s cold and dark on December 31st and it’s cold and dark on January 1st. There is no magical day on Earth when the local weather always agrees to change on a certain date and tomorrow’s weather may or may not make you feel that something special has happened. But the spring is a time of new life, which I see in the daffodils pushing up outside my house and the birds carrying bits of dry grass and twigs to the birdhouses I obstinately mounted on poles in December, screwing the bases with difficulty into the frozen ground. Life has decided it is a new year, however we should observe it.


So Happy Spring to the light-loving peoples of the northern hemisphere and to you if you celebrate tomorrow as a holiday. Happy Eostre Month to the people who undoubtedly celebrate it and Happy Nowruz!

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