The daffodils are in bloom, there’s blossom on the trees and Easter is only a few weeks away. You might say that Spring is well and truly “in the air”.
But spring doesn’t officially start in the northern hemisphere until the vernal equinox, when the day and night are exactly equal in length.
After this, you’ll start to notice the days getting longer and the nights getting shorter, all the way up until the summer solstice.
But when is the vernal equinox in 2019 and how is it celebrated? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the spring equinox?
The word equinox is Latin for “equal night”. This refers to there being exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.
It occurs twice each year – once in March and once in September.
Days and nights vary in length, because the Earth is tilted 23.5 degrees relative to the plane of its orbit around the Sun.
During the summer time, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, so we get longer days as more light falls on this part of the planet.
In the winter time, it’s the Southern Hemisphere that gets the majority of the light.
During the spring equinox, the Earth hits the turning point in its orbit where neither the North nor the South poles are tilted towards the sun.
As a result, the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length.
When is the spring equinox?
This year, the vernal (or spring) equinox will take place on Wednesday, March 20.
After this point, the days will get longer and the nights will get shorter until the summer solstice on June 21, when the pattern will reverse.
How is the spring equinox celebrated?
Equinoxes and solstices mark key stages in the astronomical cycle of the Earth.
The March equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth in the Northern Hemisphere.
Many cultures celebrate spring festivals and holidays around the March equinox, like Easter and Passover.
However, there are also a few more unorthodox celebrations – some of which date back thousands of years.
If you’re looking for a way to mark the occasion, here are five weird traditions to give you inspiration:
1. Balance an egg
There is an ancient Chinese belief that you can stand an egg on its end on the first day of spring.
The theory goes that, due to the sun’s equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.
This is, of course, nonsense. But it does still make for a fun party game – and you can save your eggs to paint on Easter Day.
2. Throw some coloured powder
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. It takes place each year around the time of the vernal equinox.
Known as the “festival of colours”, it is celebrated by tossing vibrant coloured powders onto each other and dancing in the streets.
This year, Holi starts on Wednesday, March 20, coinciding perfectly with the equinox.
3. Wear a shamrock
The symbolic plant of the equinox in Druidry is the trefoil or shamrock, which is also customarily worn on St. Patrick’s Day.
The three leaves shaped like hearts were associated with the Triple Goddess of Celtic mythology, otherwise known as the “Three Morgans”
The shamrock is thought to be symbolic of the regenerative powers of nature.
4. Plant seeds
The spring equinox is symbolic of rebirth, renewal, and growth, and in ancient Italy, it was traditional for women to plant seeds in the gardens of Adonis on this day.
The custom persists in Sicily, where women plant seeds of grains – lentils, fennel, lettuce or flowers – in baskets and pots.
When they sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the flowers are placed on graves on Good Friday, symbolising the triumph of life over death.
5. Visit an ancient monument
Many of the world’s ancient monuments were built as astrological calendars, to map the movement of the Sun over the course of the year.
The equinox is therefore a great time to visit these monuments, as they are often aligned to make the most of the Sun’s unique position in the sky.
At Stonehenge in Wiltshire, the sun can be seen rising precisely between two stones, while at Chichén Itzá in Mexico, the rising sun transforms one edge of the giant pyramid into a blazing serpent, representing the Mayan god Kukulcan.
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