Thursday, March 20, 2008



For those of us in the Central Time Zone, the vernal equinox occurred in the wee hours this morning, at 12:58 a.m. I never knew that today was such an important day! I've always known about the vernal - or spring - equinox, when days and nights are of equal length. But I didn't know about the sacredness of the vernal equinox and its place in the wheel of the year until I started exploring the Celtic World.

I discovered that the vernal equinox was a holy time of transition for the Ancient Celts, who called it Alban Eiler, Light of the Earth (or Alban Eilir to the Druids). This rare balance in nature made these days a powerful time for the Magic of the Ancient Druids. It's a time of renewal and new growth, when the natural world is re-born. On this day when the earth tilts on its axis away from winter, the God of Light conquers the God of Darkness.

But the Celts weren't the only ones who held this day in reverence. It was celebrated long before them, by the Megalithic people who lived in Britain before the arrival of the Celts, the Romans and the Saxons. Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Ancient Mayans all celebrated the equinox, as did Native Americans. Ancient Persians called it NawRaz, their New Year's Day. The Ancient Germans called it Ostara, after the Germanic fertility goddess. To the Ancient Saxons this day was called Eostre.

You can see that the word closely resembles the word Easter, a Christian holiday that became extremely intertwined with the pagan spring celebrations. The Legend of Eostre tells how this goddess found an injured bird. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare, but retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would lay these eggs and leave them as gifts for Eostre. Other names for the vernal equinox are White Spring and Bird Festival.

For some, it is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "The old and accepted folk name for the vernal equinox was Lady Day," writes Mike Nichols at However, Wiccans have appropriated this name for their celebrations of the equinox. "Christians sometimes insist that the title is in honor of Mary and her Annunciation," says Nichols, "But Pagans smile knowingly."

I am not a witch or Wiccan. However, I see no harm in observing some of the ancient pagan rituals associated with the equinox. Egg decorating, egg rolling and egg gathering are three such rituals, but to me those are best left to Easter.

It is said that on the spring equinox, the sun dances with the water at sunrise. Neopagans gather at lakes or ponds at dawn to see this occurrence in warmer climes, but that's not very fun to do in North Dakota in March!

Some things that a Northerner could do would be to tie colored ribbons or strips of fabric to a tree chosen to represent the Tree of Life, plant a pot of grass seed, buy spring-flowering plants, force lilac or forsythia branches indoors. Every culture that celebrated the equinox considered it a time for feasting, and I celebrate that!


Here in North Dakota, the trees and flowers have no buds, the grasses are not green, the birds are not yet laying their eggs. It's too early for riotous spring festivals. But we can observe the equinox in quiet ways too. Since this is the day when daylight and dark are equally balanced, we can use this day to examine the balance or lack thereof in our own lives. We can spring houseclean, either literally, by decluttering, or figuratively, by cleaning our psyches.

Today is a day to seek equilibrium, to re-balance our energies. It's a time for new hope, new beginnings, new relationships, a time to make life changes if we so desire. And also for me, time to see if I can find some pussy willows to bring home.

NOTE: I first published this last March 20. Added this year:

Have you wondered why Easter is so early this year? In fact, do you wonder how the date for Easter is determined, and why it jumps all over the spring calendar?

It's simple. The date for Easter is calculated to be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The equinox is today, the full moon is tomorrow, and hence Sunday is Easter. This Easter falls on the second earliest date that Easter can ever be observed. It has not been this early since 1913, and the next time Easter falls on March 23 will be in 2160.

It is supposed to snow later today, and snow showers are forecast for tomorrow and Saturday as well, so there will be no Easter parades, wearing of Easter bonnets, egg rolling or egg hunts in Bismarck this weekend!

For all of you who are in the same (cold) boat I am regarding crummy Easter weather, take comfort in this: Those of us alive today will never again see Easter fall this early. We won't be around in 2160, nor on March 22, 2285, when Easter will fall on absolute earliest date it can ever be held.

Some of us might still be around to see the latest possible Easter date, April 25, in 2038.

But cheer up, it's only 3 years until Easter happens on the second latest possible date, on April 24, 2011! Start planning your Easter parade finery now!


Lila Rostenberg said...

Cleaning and seeking balance are truly sacred activities!

Anonymous said...

I loved this post, very interesting.

Janet said...

Julie, thanks once again for such a great post. I learn so much from these. HB just mentioned that he heard someone telling about Easter bunnies laying eggs and asked me if I knew anything about this story. At the time I said no but now I can tell him all about it!!

smilnsigh said...

Lovely entry. Thank you.

I'm not Pagan either, although I have tried Earth Magic, as instructed by a friend. :-) {Ohhh my! Did she really sayyyyyyyy that? -giggles-}

But since I've always loved the changing of the Seasons... noting them... I loved to find that Pagans do this. It felt a little like 'coming home.'

After all, the Seasons change, with or without us. Why not notice? :-)

Janice said...

Aha ! I love to learn how current holidays have such a deep basis in the "old ways." I too especially love to think of the deeper meaning of the beginning of the seasons. Since I have read this post late tonight I will take time tomorrow to "celebrate" and use the coming of spring to think about balance in my life. Thanks so much for the story of this time of the year. Janice

Sheila said...

The Celts and early peoples recognised these changes in the year, as they were vital to their survival. I see nothing wrong with observing them as they did.
In some places on the East coast of Canada, they refer to snow that falls after Easter as Holy Water.
They will be getting plenty of it this year..!
Great post Julie, as I always I learn something when I come here.

Patricia said...

I enjoyyour posts; they are fun to read and educational! Are you getting that 9" of snow you talked about? Out here it is a mixture of snow, sleet, ice pellets, rain. I'll take the rain - had enough of the snow already!

There was a car that went through the ice here recently. Some guy decided to drive across from the pennisula to the main land, beside the ferry route. The car went through but he made it out fine. He was 2 times over the legal limit...I have no idea if his car will be pulled out after spring thaw?

I'd sure enjoy spring a lot more if there were SIGNS of it somehwere!!

Patty said...

Blessed Ostara to you my friend!

Miss Robyn said...

as you know I am celebrating the autumnal equinox :) - one good thing about living down here where seasons are opposite to yours is that I do get to celebrate Spring Equinox without all the hoo har of Easter :)
still no sign of Harry!

gma said...

Beautiful Julie! Thank you so much for all the research you do to keep us so informed. I love learning the historical significance of rituals. Be it Christian, Pagan or where ever the celebrations came from...I honor this time of rebirth, renewal, and getting into balance as well. Sending peace and sacred blessings to you this season and always.

GreenishLady said...

That's a wonderful post, Julie, full of so much information. I probably told you last year that this is a special time for me, as the Baha'i community celebrate Naw-Ruz in common with the Iranian holiday too, so we've been feasting and enjoying one another's company. My Persian friends grow plates of sprouted wheat to decorate for this holiday, and it's beautiful. I love that "wheel of the year" you have.

Naturegirl said...

Wishing you the sight of golden daffodils in the sunshine on this blessed Easter weekend!

Gemma and I and Natureboy had a great day!! Gemma is a GEM!!
sinkissed NG

LW said...

Wonderful post!

My husband chose the first day of spring many years ago to ask me to marry him…It took me about a half of a second to say Yes….

Wishing you a very Happy Easter....


Leanne said...

great post julie! a very happy and blessed ostara/alban eiler/equinox to you,
with love and light from Leanne x

Shop girl said...

Oh my Gosh, this is so interesting. I knew there was a history about the eggs and such, but this was filled with alot of things I had never heard. I learned something today, and that is always a very good thing.
Happy Easter,
Hugs, Mary

Diana S said...

Just hopping by to say HAPPY EASTER !!!

Gill said...

Happy Easter Julie of Bubblewick! Love your title!!!
The equinox brings me sweet dreams each year, and I honestly think (know really) that they are peppered with sweet visits from spirit guides. We are guided, and brought back safely, not being allowed to remember what we've been told. After all, if we knew....what would be the point?
Happy Easter, and thanks so much for the beautiful e-cards!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie, we already had snow yesterday and today, a white Easter weekend ; ) I have put some pictures on my blog.
Thanks so much for the great info.
Have a great day !!!

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

Julie 18 comments!!!
You are super famous now!!!
I thank you for this smart and delightful post.

Mary said...

This was all so interesting Julie - thanks for sharing. It's been a busy Easter weekend but lovely warm weather.
Today is chilly again. We spent a couple of hours this morning taking the tour of granddaughter Jasmin's Middle School which she'll attend come Aug. It was very interesting and the school orchestra performed in the auditorium for us! Then on to lunch at Panera where Bob broke a tooth on his sesame bagel, and grocery shopping for supper - salmon on a bed of Le Puy lentils with spinach and a nice Caesar salad.
Thanks for the e-card, we were both thinking alike!
Hope all is well in your corner of the world - warm hugs, Mary.

Mary said...

Congratulations Julie - see you tied for first place in KJ's Limerick Contest - I voted for you so am so happy you are a winner!

Hope all is well - thanks for visiting.

Tea said...

Interesting article. Hope you had a lovely Easter Julie!


Unknown said...

This is all very fascinating! I especially loved the explanation of why Easter was so early. I had no clue... I had only heard that this was not likely to happen again for a long time. Interesting.

I had written on my blog about how the system has messed up the Easter vacation. This year, 4 of us literally had/have 4 different Spring Breaks. Not one of us was/is off at the same time. This has nothing to do with the Vernal me.

Hugs, KJ

Unknown said...

I've posted on a THANK-YOU LETTER PROJECT that you might be interested in. 100 Thank You Letters are being compiled for a book. I thought you might be interested.

Hugs, KJ