10 Things to Know About the Vernal Equinox

The vernal equinox, also known as the spring or March equinox in the Northern hemisphere, is a magical moment. Occurring on March 20 this year, it marks the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere, and the beginning of fall in the Southern hemisphere. In both cases, the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world.

This is an exciting time for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, since it means new beginnings, as the earth seems to come to life again. The days gradually get longer, fresh buds bloom, and animals awaken from their winter hibernation. Here are ten things you might not know about the start of spring.

1.  What Is An Equinox?

An equinox occurs twice a year, when the sun crosses the celestial equator, which is an imaginary line above the earth’s equator. At this point, the earth’s axis is inclined neither away from or toward the sun.

The March equinox marks the time when the sun crosses the equator going from south to north. But it doesn’t stay there, since the earth never stops moving around the sun. Following the equinox, the Northern hemisphere starts to tilt toward the sun, meaning longer days.

2. The Equinox Occurs At A Specific Moment

This means that even though we celebrate the vernal equinox as an entire day, it is really only one moment, the instant that the sun crosses the celestial equator. This year the vernal equinox arrives on March 20 at 10:29 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Use this chart to translate UTC into your local time.

3.  It Doesn’t Always Fall On The Same Date

Although the equinox falls on March 20 in 2017, it can also take place on March 19 or 21. According to Space.com, there are three reasons for this. For one thing, our calendar is only an approximation of how long it takes the earth to orbit the sun, so it’s not really an even number of days. Secondly, the earth’s elliptical orbit changes its orientation relative to the sun, and this affects the time it takes for earth to reach a 90-degree location in its orbit around the sun. Lastly, there’s a gravitational pull from other planets that can also impact earth’s orbit.

4. It Determines The Date Of Easter

The vernal equinox is important in Christianity: In 325 the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. This formula is the same for both Western and the Orthodox Christians, but Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the one in use in most of the world, while Orthodox churches still use the older Julian calendar.

5. Several Famous Historical Monuments Honor The Equinox

Great-Sphinx

Photo Credit: thinkstock

Early Egyptians were clearly impressed by the power of the equinox: They constructed the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising sun on the spring equinox. If you are ever in England for this equinox, make your way to Stonehenge, in the west of the country. It is a truly wondrous moment when the sun rises exactly between two massive stones, put in place around 4,000 years ago. Moving west, the late afternoon sun on this day at Chichen Itzá, Mexico, creates a snake-like image on the northern staircase.

6. The Festival Is Also Known As Ostara

It’s hardly surprising that spring festivals were taking place thousands of years before Christianity evolved. One of them is the festival of Ostara, celebrating renewal, planting new seeds and fertility. These rites of spring come from the Celts and Saxons in Western Europe, and existed long before they were conquered by the Romans some 2,000 years ago.

Ostara (or Eostra) is an Anglo-Saxon goddess who represented dawn, from the Germanic word for “east.” Continuing these traditions, modern Pagans still celebrate Ostara, combining feasting and fun with rituals to promote balance, to bless the planting of new seeds, and to prepare for a season of rebirth.

7. The Equinox Is Celebrated Around The World

The first day of spring also marks the beginning of the 13-day celebration of the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, or “New Day.” The festival is celebrated worldwide by the Iranian peoples, along with some other ethno-linguistic groups.  Another celebration is the festival of Holia Hindu spring ritual celebrated in India and Nepal, also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love.”

8. The Vernal Equinox Symbol Is A Shamrock

shamrock

Photo Credit: thinkstock

The trefoil, or shamrock, is a symbolic plant of the equinox in Druidry. This three-leaved clover, also associated with St. Patrick’s Day, has many connections with paganism. It can represent the three parts of human existence (mind, body, soul), the three incarnations of the Triple Goddess (maiden, mother and crone), or the three realms of land, sea, sky. 

9. Some People Believe You Can Make An Egg Stand Upright

According to legend, the special astronomical properties of the vernal equinox make it possible to balance an egg on its head on this day. Is there any truth to this? No! You can do that any day, as long as you have lots and lots of patience. The theory seems to be that some sort of gravitational magic occurs, due to the sun being equidistant between the two poles of the earth. But it’s not true!

10. A Politics-Free Celebration

Best of all: Neither the president nor any other political figure can mess with this awesome day, since it’s part of the natural scheme of things, not subject to propaganda.

Enjoy the magical vernal equinox!

 

Photo Credit: thinkstock

65 comments

Vincent T
Vincent Tabout a month ago

thank you

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Jenny G
Jenny G1 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

As a Wiccan, Ostara is one of my favorite holidays. Although celebrating it is a bit of a juggling act because it's also our younger daughter's birthday, we manage to combine both and have a lot of fun with it. Both kids get Ostara baskets with potted spring flowers and seed packets for perennials in the morning (although the plants are always pansies because that's about the only thing available at the town farmer's market), we have an egg hunt in the yard when they get home from school, and our feast is a lamb dish with spring greens and a special dessert of fry bread with a sunflower seed/honey spread. This year it was even more fun because our older daughter's boyfriend and his little brother came over with her after school and joined in the egg hunt as well. I had warned them in advance that my hiding places for the eggs verge on the diabolical, and they were-everybody had a terrible time finding a good number of the eggs (her poor boyfriend only found ONE!). While we can't really plant anything outside at Ostara (this part of Maryland still gets freezes and the odd snowstorm through April), we still celebrate the balance of the season and the potential in the days yet to come. Blessed Be!

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ERIKA S
ERIKA SOMLAI2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Louise A
Louise A2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

A chilly Spring in B.C.

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ERIKA S
ERIKA SOMLAI2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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ERIKA S
ERIKA SOMLAI2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Anna Ballinger
Anna Ballinger2 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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ERIKA S
ERIKA SOMLAI2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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