Here in the United States, everyone knows about the White House Easter Egg Roll, held annually on Easter Monday. But have you heard about the sand sculpture during Haeundae in South Korea? Or the bonfire dancing of Walpurgis Night in Germany and Sweden? What about the Songkran Water Festival in Thailand?
While these traditions are separated by continent, culture, and practices, they all involve a similar message. They welcome the arrival of spring, rebirth, and coming together to celebrate shared values and beliefs. If you hadn’t been itching to travel during the pandemic, you will after this!
1. Easter Egg Roll (April 5)
This is the most popular and recognizable celebration of the spring season. Christians in the U.S. honor the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ during Holy Week. So, on Easter Monday, the White House hosts the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn. Families who win a lottery are invited to the event, where children can take pictures with the Easter Bunny, get baskets, and roll painted eggs through the grass. This year, however, the event has been canceled due to COVID-19.
2. Semana Santa (March 28-April 4)
This Holy Week festival is a major celebration in Latin America and Spain. Semana Santa honors the events leading up to Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, with particularly emotional reenactments of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday. In places like Spain, Mexico, and Guatemala, large parades are held, fireworks are showcased, and people dress up like the ancient Romans to carry a crucifix in front of the crowds. In Antigua, sand and dyed sawdust cover the streets in an “alfombra” or carpet fit for a king as processions carrying Christ’s image march through.
3. Walpurgis Night (April 30-May 1)
In Germany and Scandinavia, Walpurgis Night is celebrated with traditional folk songs, dressing in costumes, draping blessed foliage in the streets, and dancing to loud music. Similar to a “springtime Halloween”, these traditions are supposed to help ward off evil spirits set free to roam on this night and to maintain good fortune for the upcoming planting season. The holiday can be traced back to pagan festivals that honored the beginning of spring and fertility.
4. Songkran Water Festival (April 13-15)
Marking the new year in Thailand, the Songkran Water Festival is all about rebirth. The tradition originated with people sprinkling water on each other to be cleansed of negativity, misfortune, and to welcome purer, luckier times ahead. However, this festival has taken the message of what the water represents to a whole new level as elaborate water shows drench entire streets for days.
5. Beltane Fire Festival (April 30)
This pagan Celtic holiday also welcomes the start of something new: the warm summer season ahead. Each year, this festival is held in Edinburgh, Scotland, and features a massive bonfire atop Calton Hill. Drumbeats pound through the streets, and traditional dancing tells the story of the May Queen and the Green Man, which are folktales that can be traced back to Gaelic traditions of the Iron Age.
In anticipation of summer, this pagan story follows the May Queen as she crowns the Green Man, who then sheds his winter garb to reveal spring garments beneath. This signifies the official end of winter, as the Green Man now wears the clothes of the warmer seasons. Following the ritual, the May Queen and the Green Man are wed.
6. Vesak (May 7)
Celebrated in largely Buddhist countries, this holiday commemorates the life of Buddha. During this time, Buddha’s dharma messages of kindness, compassion, and wisdom are honored. Buddhist monks gather in Java, Indonesia to light lanterns and candles in front of Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. In other countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, Buddhists similarly gather in a circle with lit candles and lanterns, imitating the mass gathering of monks at Borobudur.
7. Festival of Snake Catchers (May 7)
In the Abruzzo region of Italy, this festival is held every year in Cocullo. In honor of the upcoming farming season, people drape live snakes around the statue of St. Dominic and parade the statue through the streets. This is because St. Dominic is supposed to protect farmers from snakebites and other crop-failing curses. In ancient times, people would cook the snakes and eat them after the festival. Now, however, the snakes are released back into the wild, unharmed.
8. Haeundae Sand Festival (Late May-early June)
Each year in South Korea, this holiday is celebrated to anticipate summer. Busan, with its sprawling powder-white beach, hosts some of South Korea’s most popular vacation destinations. Everyone associates summer with sun and sand, which is on full display there with sand sculpture events, hot sand baths for beauty and wellness, and four days of volleyball tournaments. Unfortunately, the Haeundae Festival was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19, and it remains unclear whether or not the festival will commence this year.
The winter and spring holiday seasons for both 2020 and 2021 were full of unknowns. Despite the separation of the different religions, customs, and beliefs behind these traditions, uncertainty in the time of the COVID links us all. It doesn’t matter if the pandemic means we can’t celebrate in person, or travel to our dream destinations. Simply, acknowledging the connection we all share given many of our current circumstances, and defining our own happiness during festive seasons, is enough.
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