While DC and the rest of the United States east coast may still be caught in the grips of the lasting effects of winter, that doesn’t change the fact that around the world spring is arriving, and soon it will be here too. Spring is commonly thought of as the season of renewal, life, and allergies. Oh, what a season it is. Pop quiz! Do you know where the photo above was taken?
Let us know what you thought about these stories, and what you and your family do to announce the arrival of spring.
The Nenana Ice Classic – Alaska, United States
Like I said before, the arrival of spring signifies renewal and life. In Nenana, Alaska, spring just happens to come with the added bonus of the chance to win a lot of money. Last year marked the official 100 year anniversary of the tradition as it is recognized today. That being said, the first actual ice betting pool was in 1906. That year, six men, Adolph Nelson, Jim Duke, Gunnysack Jack, Jonesy, Louis and Joe Johnson, and Oliver Lee, placed bets on when the ice on the Tanana River would break up. It was a fun bet, the men scanning the river occasionally to gauge if the ice had thawed yet. For us, it might have seemed like a game, but for the men, the stakes were high. Oliver Lee came out victorious in the end, and won himself the coveted prize of a couple of rounds at the local bar, paid for by the other guys. Free beer: a prize worthy of the gods.
To say the least, it’s definitely changed since then.
Today, people all over the world are invited to place their bets. The exact date and time of the ice break up is very important for the game, so today the residents of Nenana have a yearly festival to celebrate the construction and placement of a large “tripod”, which is then connected to a clock on a watch tower by a long rope. It’s designed so that when the ice breaks and the tripod falls, the rope pulls at the switch on the clock and it stops. It doesn’t end there. The tradition is taken so seriously that there is a 24/7 “watchman” on duty to ensure that the clock catches the exact second the ice breaks up. When the clock stops, it means the tripod has fallen into the newly thawed river. An alarm rings for all the town to hear, and finally the season of “Breakup” (aka Spring) can begin. The contest has become so popular that the prize money now often exceeds $300,000. That’s a lot of cash just to predict when a river will thaw.
However, this century old tradition isn’t just about the cash prize. Breakup is the start of longer days, and warmer temperatures. It’s a time for Alaskans to wake up and get a move on, after a long, long winter of darkness and below-freezing temperatures. Imagine that you have been living in a freezer all year, and now you finally get the chance to get out and move around: you’d celebrate too.
Holi – Around the World
Get ready, this is a longer one.
This tradition is arguably one of the most popular spring festivals around the world: Holi. The “festival of colors” is a Hindu celebration which takes part across the globe, both in Hindu-based societies and also, more recently, secular societies. It’s a celebration of love, color, and the victory over good and evil. On the night before participants burn a Holika Dahan (which is a large pyre) and pray for their internal evils to be destroyed. The next day is when the real fun begins. It’s formal title is Rangwali Holi, and it’s basically a free-for-all festival of throwing colors and water at anyone and everyone you see: friends, neighbors, family members, mortal enemies… everyone is fair game! Music is played, food is eaten, laughter is shared, and it’s just a wonderful time to be alive. But how did this all start? What’s the real meaning of Holi? There are many stories about the origin and significance of Holi in Hindu tradition, but for times sake I’ll have to focus on the two most popular tales: The Vishnu legend, and the Krishna legend.
The Vishnu Legend: As the story goes, there was a king, King Hiranyakashipu, who was given a blessing that would grant him five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by projectile weapons (astra) nor by any handheld weapons (shastra), and neither on land nor in water or air. This made the king arrogant, and he demanded to be worshipped by everyone. One person who didn’t listen to this was the king’s own son, Prahlada. Prahlada was a devotee of the god Vishnu, and nothing his father said or did to him would change that. The king punished Prahlada cruelly for this betrayal. The evil aunt of Prahlada, working with her brother, tricked the prince to sit on a pyre with her. What she neglected to tell her nephew was that she had a special cloak that would keep her immune to the flames. It didn’t work out that way. In a whoosh of air, just as the fire was beginning to roar, the enchanted cloak flew from the evil aunt and shrouded Prahlada, protecting him from the flames. The wicked aunt burned instead. At the same time, Vishnu appeared to the King Hiranyakashipu as a half-human/half-lion at dusk (which was neither day nor night), took him to the doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, nor water, nor air), and… well it didn’t turn out well for the king. I’ll just say that Vishnu had very sharp claws, and he knew how to use them. In the end good won over evil, and Holi was born.
Krishna legend: This one is more of a love story than an epic fight between good and evil. It’s about Krishna and his legendary love, Radha. It’s important that you know that Krishna is famous for his discolored skin, often depicted as blue. The origin of his skin color is another story for another time. Anyway, a young Krishna was looking at Radha and the other girls near her with jealousy. Why was it that she looked the way she did while he was stuck with his own plain and strange physical features? It wasn’t fair! Krishna went to his mother, complaining about how Radha looked compared to him. Krishna’s mother, fed up with her son’s complaining, told him to go to Radha and color her face in any color he wanted, so that he wouldn’t feel so jealous. Krishna, who at first was still upset with Radha’s pretty appearance, was suddenly filled with laughter after he put color on Radha’s face. Radha was shocked, but then laughed, throwing color right back to Krishna. Soon the other girls joined in on the game, and everyone was throwing color at each other, until they were completely covered.
Whether you are battling true evil or fighting your own personal demons, Holi is a chance to let it all wash away and rejoice in the coming of spring, renewal, love, and life. It brings people together, and celebrates life. It’s beautiful.
Want to join in? DC hosts a large Holi festival each year. Check it out, but be sure to respect and understand the origins and importance of this celebration. Then have fun!
Spring Equinox in Teotihuacàn – Teotihuacàn, Mexico
What do we appreciate the most about spring? For some, it’s the retreat of the cold. For others, it’s the smell of the plants coming back to life. For those who travel to Teotihuacàn for the Spring Equinox, it’s the feel of the sun, bringing energy back into their bodies.
The tradition is one that goes back to pre-Columbian culture, when a Nahuatl-speaking Aztec civilization, commonly known also as Teotihuacàn, built the “Pyramid of the Sun”. Millions of visitors visit this UNESCO World Heritage site each year, but the Spring Equinox is an especially unique and symbolic time. For many people throughout Mexico, the believe they are following in the footsteps of their ancestors, making for them the experience and journey to be very profound and spiritual.
The day of celebration and ritual, normally held on March 20th or March 21st, is filled with dancing, burning incense, and chanting, all in preparation to make the climb to the top of pyramid. People wear white outfits to symbolize a fresh start. Entire families make the journey together. People climb, because it is believed that you will absorb the most energy the higher you are on the pyramid. Once at the top, participants outstretch their arms and face the sun, feeling the warmth and energy renew them. It’s so much more than feeling the sun’s rays. For many, especially those who ancestors performed the same ritual, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time and overcome all of the historical obstacles that have stood in its way.
It’s a tradition that connects the ancient world to the modern world with the most consistent entity we’ve ever had: our sun. It’s been with Earth since its creation, its been with human civilization since we first came into being, and it will be there when our last generations die out. This Spring Equinox tradition transcends the past and the present, and looks towards the future, just as we all should this spring.
We hope you liked this post. Let us know what spring traditions you celebrate in your neck of the world. For now, stay warm, and get ready for spring!