Last year, I moved to Oregon in the middle of winter. Winter is a real thing in Oregon, especially for a Northern California native. It’s protracted and freezing, but most of all, it’s gray, a flat and ceaseless silver that goes on and on — enough to make even me, a lover of all things moody, pray for rays.

“If winter is the slow-down season, then spring, with all of its activity, intention, and energy, is the best time to start again.”

But an Oregon winter is also an honest one: winter is a time of rest, and the state’s weather reflects this truth. The harsher elements force us to slow down and live in real rhythm with the natural world and its seasons, a goal I have spent much of my life pursuing. And if winter is the slow-down season, then spring, with all of its activity, intention, and energy, is the best time to start again. 

“Returning to nature connects you to an ancient way of being human, and can help people in more ways than they know, especially those who struggle with seasonal depression,” says Celtic folklorist and herbalist Seren Hawley-Plows. “If you accept each season for what it is, you end up admiring the magic.” 

“Honoring the arrival of spring as the year’s true kickoff is a means of lightening up your life, one that many humans have embraced throughout history.”

My own admiration of this magic has been aided by the Wheel of the Year, a neopagan calendar that marks eight festivals celebrated throughout Europe, Ireland, and the UK, each tied to the cycles of the seasons. The Wheel marks the summer solstice with Litha, the fall equinox with Mabon, and the winter solstice with Yule, with additional sabbats like Samhain (Halloween) and Beltane (May Day) rounding things out. And according to this calendar, the real New Year comes not with winter, but with the spring equinox. Honoring the arrival of spring as the year’s true kickoff is a means of lightening up your life, one that many humans have embraced throughout history. 

In the pagan world, the spring equinox is often welcomed with the Germanic festival Ostara, of which Easter is thought to be a partial transmutation. Ostara celebrates spring as embodied by Eostre, the goddess of fertility and rebirth, and the connections between the pagan and Christian holidays are best identified through symbol and story.

“One of the most popular tales was that Esotre was on a journey through her landscape and she came across a frozen bird — its wings were stuck, and it was unable to fly away to safety,” says Hawley-Plows. “To save the bird’s life, she transformed it into a hare so it could hop away to safety. Then the hare, still with memory of its past form, began to lay colorful eggs to give thanks to the goddess.” 

Ostara, along with the equinox, arrives during March 19–23 when the sun crosses the celestial equator, offering roughly the same amount of light to the northern and southern hemispheres. (It’s worth noting that the Zodiac also starts with spring, on March 21 with Aries season.)

“For me, a springtime New Year brings a sense of allowing.”

“The celebration of Ostara was brought over to the UK and Ireland by the Anglo-Saxons, who also brought their gods, goddesses, pagan traditions, and beliefs,” explains Hawley-Plows. “The Celts, who were [in the UK] before the Anglo-Saxons, would celebrate the spring equinox around the same time of year — essentially a point in time when the light returns.” 

Though the marked moments may differ in provenance, each honors the earth as it, once again, comes viscerally alive. “It’s not just the renewal of nature, it’s also this new cycle of energy that you can bring forward into your life and the next year,” says Hawley-Plows.

For me, a springtime New Year brings a sense of allowing. The shift comes with permission to pause and ponder new perspectives throughout the winter freeze, slowing the process, along with my mind and body, to make way for more thoughtful downloads. By the time the daffodils begin to push up in February, I’m calm and clear — and when Portland’s cherry blossoms arrive, I’m ready to bloom, too. 

How to embrace the spring equinox

Spring may manifest differently from place to place, but the season’s revitalized vibrancy is universal. So, what’s the best way to welcome this new New Year? “There are a lot of nice things you can do, but what I like to teach people is just go with your gut instinct,” says Hawley-Plows, who prefers to perform her rituals solo. “Create your own kind of sacred ceremony, whether indoors or outdoors.” From a classic cleaning to more time spent outside to a purifying fire (pagans love fire), here are five ways to honor spring’s fresh start.

Look to your heritage

Whether you prefer Ostara, the equinox, or another iteration entirely, welcoming spring and its growth becomes more meaningful when the practice is rooted. “Look to your own culture,” advises Hawley-Plows. “Look at what parts of the world you come from and how your ancestors would celebrate at this specific time of year.”

Build an altar

Building a physical ode to the spirit of the season is a classic and creative way to mark the New Year. “Make an altar,” says Hawley-Plows. “Get some spring flowers going.” Add photos of your loved ones, candles, and any other elements or objects that signify your new beginning — or that of the natural world. You may even opt to leave your altar in place as the season progresses, allowing it to grow along with the plants. 

Light a fire

Make like a true pagan and fan some flames. Traditionally, most pagan sabbats incorporate fire in some form, the element brightening the world and purifying it in turn. “You can celebrate by having a fire that symbolizes the return of light,” says Hawley-Plows. Light a small fire in your hearth or outdoors (safely, of course), make a list of beliefs or habits you’d like to release, and watch any outdated modes of living burn away. 

Take a walk

Celebrating spring is as simple as taking a stroll outside. Ditch your usual podcast and pay attention — a mindful moving meditation may reveal more natural magic than you typically allow yourself to witness. “I love to go for a gentle walk in nature in silence, slowly noticing everything that’s growing, the little bugs on the trees, the sound of the birds,” says Hawley-Plows. “That for me is the embodiment of the return of spring.”

Clean your space 

Spring cleaning isn’t a cliché, it’s an essential step in clearing out old and stagnant energy to make room for the new. Growth requires space, so make it! Sweep things up, dust off those surfaces, clean out your closet, or simply throw open your windows and doors, letting the light and air infuse your home with the season’s reinvigorated spirit. ✨

I’ve found that the year’s darker months are a time to go inward, to preserve energy and resources, and to take stock of my internal environment. As the world around us thaws and life returns, so does the motivation to turn budding ideas and actions outward.

A springtime New Year allows me to meet the world with integrity, trusting that the goals I’ve considered are ready to be made manifest. This year, try opening up with the flowers and leaning into the fresh and generous light, and feeling what it means to live within the natural world rather than above it.

Calin Van Paris is a freelance writer and editor specializing in beauty, wellness, and lifestyle. In addition to crafting language, you can find her exploring the planet, picking flowers and vintage, and reading anything that enriches her experience.