When you get tired of the chilly days and nights, you crave for warmer temperatures. However, the idea of the chilled temperature disappearing still seems a long way even after stepping foot into March. Due to the changing climate conditions, the seasons have changed their course as we experience different temperatures all year around. But, with good news, the countdown to the first day of spring has begun.
What is the Vernal Equinox?
The first day of Spring is marked by the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere. The official beginning of spring this year will take place on Tuesday, 20th March 2018 – the vernal equinox.
The vernal equinox is at two points in the year where the sun is directly above the Equator. It is the day when the day and the night are exactly of the same length. In the northern hemisphere this day – also known as the first day of spring – falls on the 20th of March, however, in the southern hemisphere this day falls on the 22nd of September. The vernal equinox is known to mark the astronomical start of the spring season.
Why Does the Vernal Equinox Happen?
In relation to the Sun, when the Earth tilts, that is when a vernal equinox happens. It is due to this tilt that seasons change all year around.
When the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun during the spring season, the southern hemisphere is tilted away from it; this is the start of the fall. This happens twice a year due to which there are two equinoxes – the spring equinox (that takes place in March every year) and the vernal equinox (that takes place in September every year).
The First day, also known as the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere – is when the sun crosses the celestial equator (which is the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator).
The First Day of Spring
The astronomical first day of spring is on the 20th of March. At the equinox, the Earth is not tilted away to or from the Sun. Thus, anyone standing on the equator would witness the sun passing directly over his or her head. During this time, the northern hemisphere, and the southern hemisphere, both receive equal amounts of suns rays.
The first day of spring 2018 – vernal or spring equinox – is to be experienced on the 20th of March at 12:15 EST; in the northern hemisphere. The actual date of the spring equinox may vary due to the off number of days in a specific year. Also, due to the scientific factors such as Earth’s orbit around the sun and the shifting axis, the date may vary each year.
The further you step into the future, the earlier the spring arrives. The earlier, the better! The first day of spring means longer and warmer days – no more bulky sweaters and chilly nights. However, this will last only until the summer solstice on June 21st when the cycle will be changed.
On the first day of the spring, the Earth’s orbit is such that the North pole and the South pole are tilted directly towards the sun. It is due to this position of the sun that the night and day are of equal length – the sun spends equal amount above and below the horizon at every location on Earth.
Equinox is the Latin word for “Equal Night” – which explains the night and day being of an equal length in time. It is used by meteorologists as an official turning point in the seasons as it can vary from year to year. However, as it is the most accurate form of the changing seasons, it is used for record-keeping purposes.
In ancient cultures, this time of the year was highly celebrated. The Great Sphinx was built in a way that it pointed directly towards the rising sun on the first day. In Christianity, this day is very important as Easter falls on the very first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox.
How is the Date for Spring Decided?
The astronomical and the meteorological methods are two methods which can be used to determine the dates of the different season we witness all year around. The meteorological method is used based on the annual temperature cycle of the atmosphere and the state of the atmosphere.
They also coordinate with the calendar and results in the year being split into four different seasons of three months each – spring (March, April, May); summer (June, July, August); autumn (September, October, November); and winter (December, January, February).
The astronomical method looks into the Earth’s orbit position in accordance to the sun which takes into account the equinoxes and solstices. Equinoxes occur when the day and night is of the same length. However, the solstices are regarded as the longest and shortest days of the year.
Technically, the astronomical method uses the Earth’s orbit when its rotational axis is at 23.5 degrees about its orbit around the sun. Every time the orbit touches the 23.5 degrees, a new season is resulted to begin (according to the astronomical calendar). This is how the calendar is determined. By this calendar, the spring season starts from 20th March and lasts until the 21st of June.
How is the Spring Equinox Celebrated?
The March equinox is celebrated as a time of rebirth in the Northern hemisphere for a long time. After spending short, chilled days and nights, its time to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited warmer, and longer days. There are five weird traditions, or you can say rituals, that people follow to mark these celebrations:
- Balance an egg
This is an ancient Chinese tradition that you can make an egg stand on its end on the first day of spring. This is explained by the special gravitational forces that apply specifically on that day itself. These gravitational forces are a result of the sun’s equidistant position between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere at the time of the equinox.
- Throw some colored powder
The victory of good over evil is celebrated in the Hindu cultural in an event known as Holi. It is known to be celebrated every year during the time of the vernal equinox. It is known as a “festival of colors”, where vibrant colors are tossed onto one another while dancing in the streets continues with music playing throughout the day.
- Wear a shamrock
Worn on St. Patrick’s Day, the shamrock is thought to be a symbolic power of nature which regenerates energy in the atmosphere. Thus, when the spring season arrives, people are seen to be wearing it to celebrate the arrival of the new season which brings a different, and new, form of energy into the surroundings.
- Plant seeds
In Italy, it is traditional for women to plant seeds on the upcoming of the spring season every year. The first day of spring – the spring equinox – is known as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and growth.
Seeds of grains are planted such as lentils, lettuce, flowers, and fennels, in baskets or pots. This tradition is highly celebrated in Sicily. When these grains sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and are placed on graves on Good Friday. This is a symbol of the triumph of life over death.
- Visit an ancient monument
Built as astrological calendars, many of the world’s monuments map the course of the movements of the Sun over the Earth every year. They were built to keep track of time every year as no calendars existed as they do now!
The 1st day is a great time to visit these monuments as they are aligned in such a way that the Sun’s position is witnessed in the unique way possible.
At Stonehenge in Wiltshire, the sun rises precisely between two stones, whereas the Chichen Itza pyramid – built in about AD 1000 by the Mayan people – in Mexico, the rising sun results in the transformation of one edge of a giant pyramid into a blazing serpent. The serpent is represented as a symbol of the Mayan god – Kukulcan.