How many of us await for the arrival of the spring season after the frosty, frigid winters? A good deal of people! Spring is the season of new beginnings. It is a season when fresh buds bloom, animals awaken and the earth seems to come to life again. Farmers and gardeners plant their seeds and then temperatures slowly rise. Spring commences when you feel like whistling with joy, even with a shoe full of slush.
Now we have a day in a year during this blissful season where the length of day and night are equal which is what we called “Vernal Equinox” or “Spring Equinox”. There are two equinoxes in a year, one in the spring and one in the autumn. The spring or vernal, the equinox occurs around the time of March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 22 in the Southern Half. During the vernal or spring equinox, the amount of day and night is nearly the same in length. (The word equinox comes from the Latin “aequus,” meaning equal, and “nox,” meaning night.)
The Earth tilt is at an angle of 23.5 degrees on its axis relative to its plane of orbit around the sun. As the Earth orbits around the sun over the course of a year, different places on earth get sunlight for different amounts of time. An equinox occurs when the Earth’s axis doesn’t tilt towards or away from the sun. For people staying in places located on the equator, one can observe the sun passing directly overhead on an equinox day. Furthermore, equinoxes are the only two times a year that the sun rises due east and sets due west. Six months after the vernal equinox, another equinox occurs around September 22 or 23 and marks the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern half. Since the Earth actually takes about 365.24 days to complete one revolution the sun, equinoxes happen around six hours later from year to year, before moving back a day on leap years.
SPRING EQUINOX TRADITION
There’s a lot of hustle – bustle surrounding the day of vernal equinox. The traditions and celebrations commemorating this day and it’s opposite – although not as many. While the beginning of spring marks a merry occasion, the waning of warm weather is a bit melancholy.
For centuries, people have celebrated the vernal equinox. One such example is at the ruins of Chichen Itza, the ancient Maya city in Mexico, where crowds gather on the spring (and fall) equinox to watch as the afternoon sun creates shadows that resemble a snake moving along the stairs of the 79-foot-tall Pyramid of Kukulkan, also called El Castillo.
In Italy, the spring equinox welcomes a season when plant seeds germinate and begin to grow and flowers start to bloom. Hence it is often considered a symbol of rebirth and renewal. It was a customary tradition for women in ancient Italy to mark the occasion by planting seeds in the gardens of Adonis on this day. The custom still continues to persist in certain parts of the country, particularly Sicily. Each year at this time, women plant seeds of lentils, fennel, lettuce, or flowers in baskets to pay homage to the day.
On the occasion of the spring equinox, the snake descends the pyramid until it merges with a large, serpent head sculpture at the base of the structure. While the Maya were skilled astronomers, it’s unknown whether they specifically designed the pyramid to align with the equinox, thus creating this visual effect.
In India, Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, with the onset of spring and the end of winter. It takes place every year, just around the time vernal equinox approaches. Also known as the “festival of colors,” Holi is celebrated with people tossing vibrant colored powders over each other and dancing in the streets. The festivities often commence the night before with a bonfire. The celebration of Holi has become popular all over the world, though it is mainly observed in India and Nepal.
At Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in England featuring the remains of a circle of huge standing stones, druids, and pagans congregate to watch the sunrise on the equinox and welcome spring. However, it’s unclear what, if any, meaning the equinox held for those who constructed the ancient monument, as they left no written record about why or even how it was built.