Spring Traditions around the World:
While Pagans and Wiccans are celebrating Ostara, and Christians are observing Easter, it's important to remember that the dawning of spring has been observed for a long time in many other cultures as well. Traditions vary widely from one country to the next. Here are some ways that residents of different parts of the world observe the season.
The Festival of Isis was held in ancient Egypt as a celebration of spring and rebirth. Isis features prominently in the story of the resurrection of her lover, Osiris. Although Isis' major festival was held in the fall, folklorist Sir James Frazer says in The Golden Bough that "We are told that the Egyptians held a festival of Isis at the time when the Nile began to rise… the goddess was then mourning for the lost Osiris, and the tears which dropped from her eyes swelled the impetuous tide of the river."
In Iran, the festival of No Ruz begins shortly before the vernal equinox. The phrase "No Ruz" actually means "new day," and this is a time of hope and rebirth. Typically, a lot of cleaning is done, old broken items are repaired, homes are repainted, and fresh flowers are gathered and displayed indoors. The Iranian new year begins on the day of the equinox, and typically people celebrate by getting outside for a picnic or other activity with their loved ones. No Ruz is deeply rooted in the beliefs of Zoroastrianism, which was the predominant religion in ancient Persia before Islam came along.
In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated each year on March 17. St. Patrick is known as a symbol of Ireland, particularly around every March. One of the reasons he's so famous is because he drove the snakes out of Ireland, and was even credited with a miracle for this. What many people don't realize is that the serpent was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle, and did such a good job of it that he practically eliminated Paganism from the country.
For the ancient Romans, the Feast of Cybele was a big deal every spring. Cybele was a mother goddess who was at the center of a Phrygian fertility cult, and eunuch priests performed mysterious rites in her honor. Her lover was Attis (who also happened to be her grandson), and her jealousy caused him to castrate and kill himself. His blood was the source of the first violets, and divine intervention allowed Attis to be resurrected by Cybele, with some help from Zeus. In some areas, there is still an annual celebration of Attis' rebirth and Cybele's power, called the Hilaria, observed from March 15 to March 28.
One of Judaism's biggest festivals is Passover, which takes place in the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan. It was a pilgrimage festival, and commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. A special meal is held, called the Seder, and it is concluded with the story of the Jews leaving Egypt, and readings from a special book of prayers. Part of the eight-day Passover traditions include a thorough spring cleaning, going through the house from top to bottom.
In Russia, the celebration of Maslenitsa is observed as a time of the return of light and warmth. This folk festival is celebrated about seven weeks before Easter. During the Lent season, meat and fish and dairy products are prohibited. Maslentisa is the last chance anyone will get to enjoy those items for a while, so it's typically a big festival held before the somber, introspective time of Lent. A straw effigy of the Lady of Maslenitsa, is burned in a bonfire. Leftover pancakes and blintzes are tossed in as well, and when the fire has burned away, the ashes are spread in the fields to fertilize the year's crops.
In the area of Lanark, Scotland, the spring season is welcomed with Whuppity Scoorie, held on March 1. Children assemble in front of a local church at sunrise, and when the sun comes up, they race around the church waving paper balls around their heads. At the end of the third and final lap, the children gather up coins thrown by local assemblymen. According to the Capital Scot, there's a story that this event began ages ago when troublemakers were "scoored" in the Clyde River as punishment for bad behavior. It appears to be unique to Lanark, and does not seem to be observed anywhere else in Scotland.