The Spring Equinox: When is it, what is it and why is it important?
We’re a few days into March now, and as far as the UK Met Office is concerned, it’s spring. But that’s because they’ve done a convenient chopping up of the year into nice neat quarters. And because they use as their yardstick the meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle and the state of the atmosphere. But beggar the barometer! The spring or vernal equinox is what marks the first day of spring.
What is the Spring or Vernal Equinox?
The term equinox comes from light and means ‘equality of night and day‘. So an equinox takes place at two specific moments when the sun is right above the equator. Contrary to popular belief an equinox isn’t a 24-hour period – it’s that one moment.
Here in the northern hemisphere the spring, or vernal equinox happens around March 21st. That’s when the sun crosses the celestial equator as it travels south. So for us the spring equinox is the March equinox. But of course if you’re in the southern hemisphere then the March equinox is the autumnal equinox.
But Why Vernal?
This article from The Independent about the definition and meaning of the equinox explains the term ‘vernal’ for us. It comes from the Latin word for spring, while equinox has a literal meaning of ‘equal night’ – with nox meaning night. As we’ve seen, it’s the point when both day and night have the same time span. An equinox occurs when the sun makes a direct hit on the equator on the one day of the year that the tilt of the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays. For the rest of the year, either day or night is longer – depending on where you are – because of the Earth’s tilt. That’s why it gets dark earlier as winter progresses. A process exacerbated by moving the clocks backwards and forwards. AA Editorial Services has quite a bit to say on that subject in this blog about how the clock-moving wind-up started.
Don’t confuse the equinox with the solstice though. The summer and winter solstices, that take place in June and December, are a different thing entirely. They mark the longest and shortest days of the year which happen when the sun reaches either its lowest or highest point in relation to the equator.
What does the spring equinox mean and how does the world celebrate it?
Given that vernal is the Latin word for spring it stands to reason that the vernal equinox signifies new beginnings and birth/rebirth. Little wonder that we get so excited about it.
Around the world a range of different festivals and customs, as ever dating back to ancient times, take place around the vernal equinox. It coincided with pagan celebrations of birth and renewal. Ancient Christianity however, connected equinox celebrations with Easter – the time when Jesus died and was reborn.
For the Spanish, the time around the start of spring is the start of the planting season. The ground thaws and they can say hola to longer daylight hours to grow their crops in.
Seeing the days as a time to worship ancestors, Japan celebrates both equinoxes with national holidays. An idea I rather like. While the Indians have their fantastically exuberant festival of Holi – otherwise known as the festival of colours. To signify the triumph of good over evil, people celebrate by throwing coloured powder at each other.
For Iranians, the spring equinox marks their new year and they celebrate with the festival of No Ruz. It’s all about rebirth and fresh starts so they spring clean their homes, decorate them and gather fresh flowers. There’s usually a traditional picnic with family too.
Finally, the Scots are in there too with a spring celebration. In Lanark, 1st March is the day for a festival called Whuppity Scoorie. This involves the children running around a church swinging around paper balls on strings then scrabbling for coins thrown down at them.
If you want to give your skin some rebirth, regeneration and rejuvenation check out our organic and vegan friendly facial skincare products.
Finally, to return to the clocks a moment – it’s ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’! A good way to remember!
NB: in 2019 spring equinox is at 21:58 on Wednesday 20th March. While the clocks spring forward on Sunday 31st March.