Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, February 09, 2012

By: Sifana Sohail

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" - Robin Williams

Pring is finally here, as far as Bangladesh is concerned anyway. Pohela Falgun, the 13th of February is the first day of spring for us. Of course, we're not the only ones celebrating the return of the season of love... other people around the world are just as sappy.

Spring was always a big deal on Earth. It is flowers, and sunshine and 'love-is-in-the-air' season. People have always been celebrating the arrival of spring. The Ute Native Americans used to do a bear dance to celebrate the arrival of spring. The dance was also a courtship dance where girls got the chance to flick the fringes on their shawls, in their own version of 'girl's choice'. Apparently, it mimics the way the female bear wakes up from hibernation and chases the male bear.

The Chinese New Year comes with the arrival of spring, so they celebrate with a huge festival called the Spring Festival. It also celebrates family reunion, kind of like Christmas in the West where people are forced to visit their in-laws and estranged family. People paste the character for happiness or good luck, 'Fu', on the front of their doors.

'Vietnamese Lunar New Year' is another New Year that coincides with the arrival of spring. It's pretty similar to the Chinese New Year, with people visiting relatives and friends and going germy for a day as sweeping the floor and emptying the garbage is unlucky. There are a lot of customs to be observed - things you can and cannot give to people such as knives (since they bring incompatibility) or medicine (the recipient will become ill).

In Iran too, the first day of spring coincides with the Persian New Year, called Nowruz. It falls each year on the March Equinox. Nowruz is celebrated all over the world, mainly Asia. In Iran, people wait for the exact moment of the arrival of spring to open presents. In India, houses are repainted and rangoli is used to decorate the house with auspicious symbols and creative patterns. In Pakistan, Nowruz is celebrated as Navoroz when painted eggs signifying earth are collected and distributed (sounds kind of familiar). One particular custom of Nowruz in a few places is jumping over a fire which burns out all the fear in the jumpers.

In Ireland, the first day of spring is celebrated as Imbolc, or St. Brigid's Day, originally a Celtic festival. This festival is wrapped up in religion, related with purification and fire, which represents the triumph of the Sun over the darkness of winter.

According to old beliefs, Cailleach, a Gaelic hag, collected her winter firewood on this day. If the winter was going to be longer, she'd make the day bright and sunny, to make it easier for her to collect firewood. If the winter wasn't going to stretch that year, she wouldn't bother; so, foul weather was considered lucky. These days, there's a celebration called Brigid's Bed where the girls make a Brigid doll, called Brideog, out of corn and stay up with it all night. They also leave out pieces of cloth and strings for St. Brigid to bless during the night.

In India, the arrival of spring is celebrated with Holi, the Festival of Colours. For rock-dwellers, on the two days of Holi, Indians have a lot of fun throwing coloured powder at each other. People have special celebrations in different places, with music, sports and other festivities. In Barsana, Lath mar Holi (the first two words sound oddly Bangali) is played. The men sing provocative songs and the women, becoming offended, beat them with sticks or lathi while the men protect themselves with shields. Sounds fun, right?

Hindus also celebrate Vasant Panchami on the first day of spring, a festival which commemorates Saraswati, their goddess of knowledge, music and arts. The colour of the festival is yellow. Just like Pohela Falgun. The terrible burden of education falls on children on this day - according to tradition, children are taught to write their first word during the festival. In Punjab, it's a Kite Festival, where birds take to the ground for a day while kites take over the sky.

As for a more animalistic ritual - Americans celebrate Groundhog Day, not as the first day of spring, but to see whether spring would be early or late. If the sky is cloudy when the groundhog emerges, spring will be early that year. If the sky is sunny and the groundhog casts a shadow, the winter will last for another 6 weeks. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? Kind of like that Irish legend... but maybe the Irish had a hard time figuring out exactly what they were seeing through their beer goggles.


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