www.whyville.net Mar 23, 2000 Weekly Issue


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by spazchick
Times Columnist

Note from the Editor: I got a heap of mail in response to last week's question about spring. None of which was quite as complete as what spazchick here sent in:

The change of seasons, such as winter to spring, is explained in many ways by many different people. I'm here to tell you guys the scientific and legendary history of spring. The scientific version goes like this...

Spring officially starts on March 21st of every year. Spring and autumn are special points in the Earth's orbit when the sun appears directly above the Earth's equator. Day and night are the same length, 12 hours, on this day. Spring is the Vernal Equinox. (Equinox's literal meaning is "equal night") On an equinox, neither half of the Earth points directly towards the sun. In fact, the sun is at the equator, so both halves of the Earth are getting about the same amount of sunlight.

In ancient times before Easter was celebrated, people connected spring with the return of life to the Earth. Early people believed that each season was ruled by a certain deity. There was a deity called Eostre, the goddess of spring, who was worshipped in the northern and central parts of Europe. Her name is believed to have come from the word to describe the direction of the sunrise - "east." Some think the word Easter came from the same source. Every spring people in these regions held festivals to honor and thank Eostre. They offered her cakes that are similar to hot cross buns.

Wall painting from a tomb: Abduction of Persephone by Hades (ca. 350 BC)
Courtesy of JBD Hamilton, College of the Holy Cross

The ancient Greeks created a story to explain the change of seasons. Demeter was the goddess of earth and agriculture, and Persephone was her beautiful daughter. One day the earth opened up and Hades, the king of the underworld, abducted Persephone to be his bride. Demeter became so sad at her daughters disappearance that she stopped doing her work and all the plants on earth died. She then found out what had happened to her daughter and went to Zeus, king of the gods, to demand her daughter's return.

Persephone had refused to eat anything in the underworld because she knew that once a soul ate anything down there they would be doomed to stay forever. However, Hades tricked her by telling her it was safe to eat seeds and she ate one. Zeus, knowing what had happened, ruled that Persephone would be returned to her mother every spring for six months. The other six months of the year she lives with Hades, so her mother is gloomy and nothing grows in the winter time.

Sculpture by Bernini: Abduction of Persephone by Hades (1621)
Courtesy of JBD Hamilton, College of the Hol y Cross

Springtime is the season of renewal, when flowers blossom, all green things grow and people feel a renewal of energy within themselves. People even begin to wear lighter colored clothing to "match" the environment around them.

I hope you have a better idea of how spring came to be from reading this! This is spazchick signing of. Thanks for listening!



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