March: The Glorious Month of Rebirth
As winter fades, we are ready to embrace the new season. You may have even already taken notice of changes when you step outside? Or you may be enjoying the recent longer hours of daylight? Well, let’s take a look at a few of the wonderful things that invariably take place during this lovely month…
The Onset of Spring
So, March is pretty much the month when spring officially begins. Just take a walk in nature and you’ll spot flowers starting to bloom in an array of delightful colours! Spring has sprung with the arrival of all the wonderful wildflowers all over the rolling green hills of Lebanon. During this month we will also still see the last of the snowy peaks in the backdrop – remnants of winter bidding us farewell! Goodbye winter and welcome spring – the season for new beginnings! Markings of newness and rebirth are everywhere: from fresh buds that bloom, animals awakening from hibernation to people starting to plant seeds in their garden again for a new harvest.
This period also marks the spring (vernal) equinox, which is a yearly astronomical event. In the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers and scientists consider March equinox as the official start of spring. This year it starts on March 20th (for those four hours or more behind GMT, it will fall on March 19th). What does this exactly mean? Well, in simple scientific terms it is when the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun causing day and night to be approximately of equal duration – 12 hours – all over the Earth. When this happens, Earth’s axis becomes somewhat perpendicular to the Sun’s rays (it’s not tilted towards or away from the Sun). And the great part about the equinox is that we can enjoy increasing sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets.
It so happens that three important occasions fall on the same day of the spring Equinox. So, let’s explore them, shall we?
Nawruz – A New Year that Kicks Off in Spring
Interestingly, in some cultures the spring equinox marks the start of a new year (and not the first of January). This is the case with Nawruz, which is the Iranian New Year. In the Farsi language, Nawruz means “new day” and marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) in the Iranian calendar. Nawruz is also a festival, that is not only celebrated in Iran and other parts of Asia, but also in the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Black Sea Basin by over 300 million people. It is a special festive period that is rooted in solidarity and respect for nature. In fact, the United Nations described it best by highlighting the philosophy behind this unique celebration:
“It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities…. celebrating Nowruz means the affirmation of life in harmony with nature, awareness of the inseparable link between constructive labour and natural cycles of renewal and solicitous and respectful attitude towards natural sources of life.”
Nawruz is known to be a special time for family and friends who come together to celebrate. Students typically get a two-week vacation from school and most people don’t work during the Nawruz festivities. It usually begins with the traditional spring cleaning of the home. Many also may purchase new furniture or even get new clothing on this occasion. And throughout the holiday period, friends and family gather at each other’s homes for meals or tea. An important activity during Nawruz is making the ‘haft-seen’ table. In Persian it actually means “a table of seven things that start with the letter S.” Each food item starts with S, such as Seeb (apples), Sumac, Sir (garlic) and so forth. It is also customary to place a mirror on this table, which symbolizes new life, coloured eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity, hyacinths to symbolize spring and candles to radiate light and happiness.
A Festive Nawruz Table
While Nawruz is a secular holiday, it is also partly rooted in the religious traditions of Zoroastrianism. In a nutshell, Zoroastrianism emphasizes the corresponding work of good and evil in the world and the connection of humans to nature. Fire is also this religion’s most sacred symbol, as it represents righteousness and truth (in Zoroastrian temples a fire is constantly kept burning). In Nawruz, on the last Wednesday of the old year, a fire jumping tradition is practiced, as a nod to Zoroastrianism. It is known as ‘Chahar Shanbe Suri’ where people gather and light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flame while chanting. As people hop over the fire they typically ask to be cured of any sickness or bad luck and ask for good luck and health in the new year. Today, most people don’t risk the dangers of jumping over a fire (why accidently scald yourself during a celebration?), but they prefer to light a bonfire and chant without getting too close to the flames.
Now onto another special celebration which takes place in March and also falls on the first day of spring. Yes, it’s Mother’s Day! (However, in some counties, like the USA, it takes place in May – just to clear any confusion). And what a wonderful tribute day to acknowledge all mothers everywhere! A mother’s role is absolutely priceless and so instrumental that we should celebrate and honor moms everyday, if you ask us! While Mother’s Day is not a public holiday, you will find that many schools across the Middle East hold activities and festivities for this occasion. Mothers are typically pampered on this day and receive flowers, chocolates and an assortment of gifts. You will also spot mothers having lunch with their children at restaurants to celebrate this day together. And if you have any particular Mother’s Day tradition in your household, do share it with us as we would love to hear what it is!
The third occasion that also falls on the first day of spring is International Happiness Day. And as you will have guessed it is a day to celebrate happiness! Since 2013 the United Nations has celebrated this day to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.
International Day of Happiness came about thanks to the work of the United Nations and its partner, a non-profit group called Action for Happiness https://www.actionforhappiness.org ,which has members from 180 counties. The objective of this initiative is to spread awareness globally that progress is not only about increasing bottom lines and encouraging growth, but it is also about well-being and human happiness as well. Back in 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. Two years later, in 2013, the UN along with Action for Happiness celebrated the world’s first International Day of Happiness and it has continued to grow since. In fact, the United Arab Emirates took things further and appointed its first ever Minister of Happiness (being the first to do so in the Middle East) in 2016. Let’s hope the rest of the Middle Eastern countries will follow suit!
Well, hope you got some inspiration for things to celebrate this spring Equinox! From longer days, Nawruz, Mother’s Day, Happiness Day to plants and trees around you bursting forth with new life, there’s a lot to smile about! Let’s keep a positive outlook this spring and hope for the best! Remember, life is never stagnant. It is always changing even if we don’t notice it, so better days are always around the corner! This Equinox, is definitely the time to appreciate life, to show our solidarity and support with those in need of help, and to stay calm and do what is necessary until we overcome whatever hardships come our way. Being in the throes of a global pandemic is a very difficult experience, so let’s remain vigilant and practice what is necessary while being kind to one another. From the team at The Wellness Project we wish you a safe and blessed spring.