Vernal Equinox Celebrations Around the World

Spring has finally arrived! Okay so not quite yet, but it’s coming. The equinox signals the time of year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the day and night are the same duration. On the spring (or March) equinox, this means the northern hemisphere begins to receive longer days and warmer weather.  It is during this time many cultures choose to celebrate. It makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the coming of warm weather?

Holi Festival

In Hindu cultures, the equinox brings with it the celebration of Holi. Holi starts March 12th and continues on to the evening of the 13th. The legend goes that the king Hiranyakashyap wanted everyone in his kingdom to worship him and him alone. His son Prahlad disagreed and worshiped Lord Naarayana. Hiranyakashyap ordered his sister Holika to enter a burning fire with Prahlad. Holika had a cloak that she wore to protect herself from the flames. However, she was not aware that the cloak only worked if one entered on their own. As a result, she burned; Prahlad, on the other hand, was rewarded for his devotion to god and survived the fire.

The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, the triumph of devotion, and the wish for fertile lands. A popular tradition during the Holi festival is to throw colored powders and water at one another in a crowd. During this time, you’re encouraged to forget past grievances and be friendly to one another.

If you’re interested in attending a Holi festival and learning more about the cultural side of it, there is an event happening at the Penn Museum on March 11.

Color Runs are an alternative way to celebrate, with runs happening worldwide throughout the year.  While this is not the Holi festival, you will still get the opportunity to throw colored powders at your friends and laugh your head off.


In Persian cultures, the equinox brings the celebration of the New Year, which they call Nowruz. The word Nowruz translates to “a new day” and is celebrated on the 20th or 21st of the March.

Nowruz is the only event that is celebrated at the exact same moment worldwide since it’s based on a celestial event (You guessed it, the equinox). Though it is thought of by many as being the biggest Iranian holiday, it predates Iran and is celebrated all across West Asia.

The new year celebrates renewal and rebirth. Part of the renewal process is the letting go of hate and all of the bad things you might have done in the past year and hoping to be better in the year to come. There are many different rituals and ways of celebrating Nowruz, including cleaning the house and going shopping as a family for new clothing.

To learn more, on the 23rd of March, there is a Nowruz celebration being held at International House Philadelphia. Here you can learn more about Nowruz and eat food!

El Castillo

Every year for both the fall and spring equinox (March 20th and September 22/23), curious and adventuresome people come to see the wonders of the Temple of Kukulcan. The Temple of Kukulcan, or El Castillo as the locals call it, is a marvel of Mayan architecture and astronomy.

During the equinox, the light shines on this structure in a way which creates the illusion of a large snake making its way down to the bottom corner of the pyramid where lies the carved head of a serpent. Some believe the ancient Maya could have seen this as the manifestation of the god Kukulkán, the feathered serpent. Kukulkán is thought to be one of the three creators of life and is associated with resurrection and reincarnation. While we might never know for sure if the Mayans celebrated during this time, the ruins have become quite an attraction for the equinox.

This is a location-based festival taking place in Yucatan, Mexico.  In order to actually see the temple, you must buy a ticket to the archaeological site. This can cost $10+ depending if you get a ticket at the gate or through a tour. Once inside, there will be vendors and music playing.

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