A Guide to Spring Traditions
From Easter to Holi to the little-known Festival del Burro, here are the world’s favourite ways to celebrate spring.
Every April, the entire country of Laos—along with most of Southeast Asia—erupts in a giant water fight in celebration of the New Year. Known as the Songkran Festival, this tradition coincides with the peak of the dry season’s oppressive heat. Homes and holy statues are cleaned, and anyone is fair game for a good-natured drenching.
When my wife and I visited the city of Luang Prabang on the upper Mekong River, we found it was impossible to walk 10 feet without getting soaked by kids and adults brandishing buckets, balloons and plastic water guns. It was also impossible not to get in the spirit, and soon we were dousing with the best of them.
Yet every morning at dawn, locals would line up outside temples to receive the blessings of orange-robed monks. This combination of rowdiness and reverence captures the essence of festivals worldwide marking the spring equinox in late March, when the days finally become longer than the nights. The end of winter, the return of warmth and life—no matter where you are, the start of spring is a time for both gratitude and celebration.
Celebration of spirit
In the Christian world, Easter can be as simple as a visit to church to commemorate the resurrection of Christ, followed by a backyard hunt for coloured eggs, which symbolise the cycle of life. In Latin America, however, centuries of Roman Catholic tradition have turned Semana Santa—the “Holy Week” leading up to Easter—into one of the biggest festivals of the year.
In countries like Ecuador, solemn church Masses alternate with parades and re-enactments of events in Jesus’ life, including non-lethal versions of the Crucifixion. The holiday menu includes traditional foods like fanesca, a thick soup made with salted cod, grains and vegetables, whose ingredients may represent the combination of Christianity (fish) with indigenous religions (local grains).
The Hindu spring festival of Holi also combines the seasonal cycle with traditional tales—in this case, the story of Prahlada, whose devotion to Vishnu saved him from immolation on a pyre even as his aunt, the supposedly immortal demon Holika, was consumed. For two days in late March throughout India and Nepal, revellers sing and dance around huge bonfires, rejoicing in the victory of good over evil. The most eye-catching part of Holi, though, is the kaleidoscope of coloured powders revellers throw at each other, creating a living rainbow of joyous humanity.
Celebration of life
If the end of winter makes you feel like bursting into song, you’re not alone. Every spring brings an explosion of music festivals, from the Cartagena International Festival of Caribbean Music to the Negril West End Reggae Festival. In the Netherlands, the Breda Jazz Festival brings more than 180 free concerts to the city every March, while Austin, Texas, overflows with music, films and cutting-edge seminars during South by Southwest.
Some spring celebrations maximise the quirkiness factor—maybe it’s the result of being cooped up all winter. Take the Festival del Burro in San Antero, Colombia, part of the town’s Semana Santa events. One of the country’s most useful but unappreciated animals, the donkey, has its day during a national beauty pageant, complete with clothes and makeup.
And in the sailing hot spot of Annapolis, Maryland, the vernal equinox signals the end of winter, which by tradition is the only season when boaters don’t go barefoot inside their shoes. So what better way to celebrate the start of spring than an irreverent festival called the Burning of the Socks?
From blazing footwear to bonfires, sacred rites to water fights, spring festivals span the spectrum, but they all have one thing in common: the eruption of joy because, once again, winter is over and spring has truly begun.