All over the world and for millennia, there have been celebrations that either mark or coincide with the arrival of spring.
They range from the ancient pagan rites of spring to the Persian Nowruz, an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal and rebirth of nature.
In Pakistan, boys celebrate Basanth, the first day of spring in the Muslim calendar, with kite-flying contests, and Hindus have the spring festival of Holi. The Effutu community in Ghana each spring hunts deer and makes an offer to the god Panche.
Spring brings Passover for Jews, an eight-day commemoration of the Israelites' emancipation from slavery in Egypt, as well as the Christian Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his persecution and crucifixion.
We asked four spiritual leaders in Sonoma County to share their thoughts and messages during this time of reflection, celebration and renewal.
There is something about the message of Easter that seems to resonate across all denominations, says the Rev. Edward Viljoen of The Center for Spiritual Living. The inter-faith Santa Rosa congregation has roots in the "New Thought" movement of the 19th century and the ideas of Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
"I think it has something to do with this being a time of renewal and the hope of things to come. And it all comes after a long period of introspection," said Viljoen, "which was so beautifully characterized in the story of Jesus of Nazareth."
For Christians, Easter is the most holy of days. But the story of death, entombment and resurrection can be embraced for its powerful metaphors, he said, whatever one's faith.
One is the idea of conquering death. Depending on the individual, he said, it could represent the hope of conquering "smaller deaths" like the loss of a relationship, vision or hope.
For 19 years the South African-born Viljoen, a naturalized citizen who first trained as a classical musician, has headed the Center for Spiritual Living, which has its home in a remodeled skating rink on Occidental Road.
This year, he said, his Easter message will be one of hope and renewal.
"It seems our country is ready for that," Viljoen reflected. "There is a sense people are yearning for something to believe in, something to hope for. They have experienced a loss of faith."
He will call on people to reconnect by making spiritual practice as much a part of their daily life as brushing their teeth. It can be whatever speaks to them, whether it's prayer, meditation or just setting aside time in the day for quiet reflection.
"I'm asking people to recommit to their spiritual practice not in a random way and not to just turn to it in times of need," he said, "but to practice it on a regular basis, to build their faith muscles so that when difficulties emerge, they don't get blind-sided. We already know where to turn for strength."
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in downtown Santa Rosa has its roots in the Christian tradition, but also takes inspiration from all of the world's religions, as well as science and philosophy.
"We're more interested in everyone living together in a generous and compassionate way than worrying too much about the differences in our theologies," said the Rev. Christopher Bell, head of the congregation since 2006.