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Five things I’ll bet you didn’t know about the March equinox

After jumping over the fire singing, "sorkhi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az to" ("Your redness mine, my paleness yours"), adherents then put a coin in a pot and drop it from the roof.

Everyone north of the equator knows that the vernal equinox, being the zero point of sidereal time, occurs around March 20, marking the point where the sun crosses the celestial equator and defines the zero point of right ascension, the celestial coordinate system used to measure the eastward position of objects along the celestial equator relative to Oscar night.

Everyone knows all of that. Which is why it takes only a small staff of ecclesiastical mathematicians to calculate the date of Easter in any given year.

What I want to talk about today is how the March equinox serves as a reference for a dizzying array of observances, celebrations, kinks, criminal activities, and pseudoscientific belief systems found in many cultures even outside of Alabama and other science-denying enclaves of knuckle-dragging prelates.

I’m going to give you just five examples of aberrant equinoctial observances that I will bet you didn’t know about (or have repressed). But there are plenty more. Because celestial events fire the human imagination like nothing else. (Don’t worry! I have omitted the truly horrific stuff about Spring Break.)

Here are five things I’ll bet you didn’t know about the March equinox:

  1. Mandatory hilarity: In ancient Rome, showing signs of grief or sorrow was prohibited during the days of joy and merriment known as the hilaria, which were celebrated on the March equinox to honor Cybele, the Phrygian goddess of fertility, nature, and the Earth. The Romans knew how to keep a stiff upper lip long before they arrived in London.
  2. On the Zoroastrian holiday known as Chaharshanbe Suri ( “cha-har-shan-beh soo-ree”), Iranians leap over bonfires, singeing their nether regions in purification rituals during the ancient Festival of Fire, celebrated on the last Wednesday before the vernal equinox. After jumping over the fire singing, “sorkhi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az to” (“Your redness mine, my paleness yours”), adherents then put a coin in a pot and drop it from the roof.
  3. In the Philippines, the Oblation Run is held annually around the time of the vernal equinox by the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, whose members streak naked through the campus of the University of the Philippines, no doubt inspiring David Niven’s ghost to quip, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
  4. Egg Balancing: A popular belief among American science-class drop-outs holds that during the vernal equinox you can more easily balance an egg on its end because of unusual gravitational and electromagnetic forces. This motherlode of magical thinking, rooted in Chinese folklore and promulgated by “ritual expert and consultant, speaker, workshop leader, and award-winning writer” of the book “The Queen of My Self: Stepping Into Sovereignty in Midlife,” Donna Henes, was conclusively debunked in 1984 by Frank D. Ghigo of the University of Minnesota. Henes, a prominent Beliefnet writer, started organizing egg-balancing ceremonies with the stated goal of bringing about world peace and international harmony.
  5. White people in red baseball caps gather at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Horse Breath Montana on the day of the March equinox to fondle their assault rifles, sing praises to Orange Jesus, and exchange stories of baby-eating cabals led by Big Bird in Hollywood. The sad thing is, I made that one up out of whole cloth, and it is no crazier than the others.

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