Call it Vernal
Over the course of the year, no other season is anticipated more, or is host to as many celebrations,as spring. Across time, cultures and continents, the season has been, and is, universally commemorated as a time of rebirth, growth, promise and redemption.
Technically, spring in the northern hemisphere begins with the vernal equinox, the moment the sun crosses the equator and begins its gradual drift northward—the moment when day and night are equal and “in balance” (equinox is Latin for equal night). This year that occurs at 6:29AM (EDT), March 20. The very nature of this equal division—of the duration of night and day/dark and light—have made the equinox both astronomically significant and an important spiritual marker for a wide range of belief systems.
Buildings and other structures or indicators that in some way specify the exact moment of the equinox have been constructed by almost every significant culture around the globe. In Arkansas, 1,000-year-old Native American ceremonial mounds are aligned to mark the equinox sunrise. In Cambodia, the sun at equinox crowns the main temple tower at Angkor Wat, and it precisely aligns with markers on the 5,000-year-old Grianan of Aileach in County Donegal, Ireland. At the Mayan temple at Chichen Itzain Mexico, the equinox sunrise perfectly delineates the 120-foot-long shadow of the snake god Kukulan. The list goes on—marking the equinox, in fact, is a key element in the construction and/or alignment of countless ancient structures, from Stone henge to the Great Pyramids.
This cosmological spotlight has not been lost to modern cultures, however. Many of our modern religious and cultural holidays are, in fact, directly related to “pagan” celebrations, long forgotten, which in turn were likely scheduled to coincide with lunar or solar events. In a delightful conjunction of cultures and calendars, the Roman Catholic holy day of Easter (named for Eostre, the ancient Germanic goddess of fertility), for example, is always scheduled for the first Sunday (defined by the Gregorian calendar) after the first full moon (lunar calendar) following the vernal equinox (solar calendar). Food, of course, plays a big part in most major cultural celebrations. The ritual dinner of Passover, the joyous Easter feast, the Persian New Year—all fundamentally celebrate the season of rebirth and the growth that will mature and be harvested in the fall.
The Hudson River was the original highway into the New World, and its shores have been home to multitudes of settlers from all parts of the globe, including Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Indian, Italian, Hispanic and many others. Our heritage and our history are made of what these immigrants brought—and continue to bring—each adding another little bit to our wonderfully diverse culture.
We celebrate that in this issue, just a little bit more than usual, with our own spring tradition, now beginning its second decade. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and celebrates the incredible diversity of food and people throughout our valley. It’s a two-week party called Spring Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, and it unofficially welcomes a new year of culinary pleasures. (We tried calling it Vernal Equinox Restaurant Week but that never caughton). Hope to see you there.