It’s been a long winter. Do not despair, the vernal equinox is here! You might have heard something about the first day of spring arriving on March 20 this year, but you might be wondering, what exactly does that mean? One thing you certainly understand is that winter is abating, and the mild, warmer days of spring are just around the corner. Journey with me and discover why March 20, the vernal equinox, is the harbinger of a new, much-longed-for warmer season.
To put it simply, vernal, which just means spring, and equinox, which means equal night, is one of two 24-hour periods during the year when the hours of daylight equal, more or less, the hours of darkness. The reason I say “more or less” is because in most regions on Earth daytime on the equinox is a bit longer than 12 hours. That is because of the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. But that’s a topic for another time.
From the first day of winter when the hours of daylight are at a minimum, the length of the day increases until the first day of spring and continues to increase until the first day of summer, when the number of daylight hours is the longest. From that first day of summer, until the autumn equinox, the daylight hours shrink, until once again daylight and nighttime hours are equal. And that is the continuous ebb and flow of the seasons through the year.
Generally, temperatures also begin to rise with the advent of spring. However, there are many factors that influence a region’s temperature; so for some locations, it can take considerably longer for the winter world to finally thaw.
Spring is a time of celebration all over the world. Many customs, holidays, and traditional practices are spring-based. Christian cultures calculate the date of Easter based on when spring is due. Easter eggs are a symbol of rebirth, but Christians are not the only group celebrating with eggs in the spring. There is an ancient Chinese tradition to balance eggs, also a symbol of fertility, on the day of the vernal equinox.
Persians celebrate Nowruz on the day of the spring equinox, a day that has been observed for over 3,000 years and rooted in the practices of the Zoroastrian tradition. Celebrations last about 12 days and include the purchase of new clothing, cleaning homes, and growing wheat or lentil seeds as a symbol of new growth.
Judaism famously celebrates the birth of the Jewish people during Passover and is also intimately connected to the spring, although the date does not necessarily coincide with the solar calendar’s spring equinox.
Although many people celebrate Earth Day on April 22, there are also some that have designated the spring equinox as the best day to promote the protection of the one planet that all the people of the world must inhabit, Earth.