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Ukrainian Spring

March 2, 2011

According to most calendars, Spring begins with the equinox on March 20 at 7:21 EST. As they say on, “The four seasons are determined by changing sunlight (not heat!)”. According to the Ukrainian calendar, Spring began yesterday, on March 1. On morning television shows they were wearing flowered wreaths on their heads, and on the news they showed different celebrations that were held in cities around Ukraine.

When I was on my way to the bus stop this afternoon, I saw a woman at one of the booths along the street (it is not really a bazaar, so to speak) selling seeds. Only seeds. Many different kinds of seeds. Considering the fact that there is still snow on the ground and it has been so cold lately I was, until two days ago, wearing three layers of clothing, I think that buying seeds is a bit optimistic. However, I remember seeing my “host mother” last year and her seedlings, which she planted when the weather became warm enough (in MAY).

Since it is “Spring” here in Ukraine, I am also watching for the “warm weather” clothing to come out. I have already seen a few glimpses of it on young women – the short skirts, which were gone for a couple of weeks of the coldest weather, are back. They are starting to go hatless (it is not that warm yet). The tougher people have gone without gloves the whole winter (whereas I have been wearing those in double layers too). Winter clothing has been marked down at the clothing stores, which are advertising the sales in their windows (maybe someday I will actually go into one of those stores).

I wonder where the tradition of Spring beginning on March 1 (Summer on June 1, Autumn on September 1, and Winter on December 1) came from. Certainly it did not come from the equinox (a pagan tradition, really), and it did not come from the weather, unless at the time they determined that Spring begins on March 1, the climate was very different here than it is now.

I decided to do a quick web search on why Spring begins in Ukraine on March 1, and found an article from the Kyiv Post, from 11 years ago. The author discussed this very question. Here are some of the things he said:

“For decades, the Slavs have been taught that March 1 is the first day of spring. Whoever came up with the notion of assigning an arbitrary Gregorian calendar date to a scientific phenomenon must have eaten some funny mushrooms. Silly wabbits, myths are for kids. Spring starts on the day of the vernal equinox – one of two days of the year when the sun passes directly over the equator and every point on earth experiences exactly 12 hours of daylight. It doesn’t start when my Ukrainian colleagues anxiously flip their Calendars on March 1.”

However, he goes on further, to argue against Spring beginning on the equinox: “..assigning the start of spring to an arbitrary calendar date is nonsensical. Judging the season to have started at a certain point in the Earth’s orbit might seem more scientific, but still doesn’t hit the mark. In reality, spring happens when it happens. It’s when the buds begin to sprout, when the flowers and grass begin to grow and when migrating birds return to their summer homes. “

Still, Ukrainians will insist that Spring has arrived, no matter what the weather. It is mystifying to me, but then again, so is eating mayonnaise on pizza. This is just another one of those little cultural differences that make my stay here more interesting. So my calendar aligns with Ukraine’s for now – after all, it will be warm soon enough and feel like Spring anyway, no matter what the calendar says, right?


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