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(aka Spring Equinox)

 

The term Vernal Equinox originates from Latin.  Vernalis means "of spring" and equinoxium means "time of equal days and nights." In other words, the vernal equinox is one of two times during the year when the day and night are of equal length, both being 12 hours long. The other time it happens is in the Fall and is called the Autumn Equinox.  Why does this happen? Because the ecliptic (or the sun's path through the sky) and the earth's equator intersect. The sun is above the equator. At this precise moment (known as the equinox) exactly 1/2 of the earth is illuminated by the sun's rays and 1/2 of the earth is in darkness. This, as I said above, makes a day that has a 12-hour daytime and 12-hour nighttime.  This link has an vernal equinox animation (Loading takes a little bit of time) to help give you a visual idea of how the sun is hitting the equator and causing equal days and nights.

In the ancient times, the vernal equinox marked the start of the year. It also marked the point of the zodiac in which the 12 constellations were calculated. This is the reason it is sometimes referred to as "the first point of Aries."  And, at one time spring began when the sun first entered the zodiac sign of Aries. However, because The Precession of the Equinoxes, a phenomenon which refers to the cyclical wobbling in the earth's axis of rotation, the vernal equinox has shifted westward over the centuries. So, spring now begins when the sun is in Pisces, the next constellation to the west.  This is why the vernal equinox is said to be observed on or about March 21st.

As far as weather is concerned, the astronomical seasons mean nothing. As many of us know, in a lot of areas of the United States, although technically it's considered Springtime (March, April or May), there still can be winter weather. In Great Britain, however, spring is thought to include February, March and April.  In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. For example, Down Under (Australia) spring begins around September 23 and ends about December 21.

As light and light (spring) replaced darkness and death (winter), the ancient people were greatly influenced. So the vernal equinox played an important role in their folklore, mythology, lifestyle and art. The ancient Teutonic goddess, Eostre, symolizing  new Spring and fertility, was the key symbol of this celebration which was also known as Ostara. Legend has it that the goddess was saved by a bird whose wings had become frozen by the cold of winter.
which turned the bird into a hare that could lay eggs. Visit our History of Easter, Folklore, Symbols page for more.  

There is also a saying that "In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." At the same time, most women turn to thoughts of spring cleaning. The Vernal Equinox represents renewal for the home, as well as nature. The act of “spring cleaning” is said to remove any negative energy accumulated over the dark winter months and prepares the home for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.

Most of the ancient New Year's rites took place around the time of the vernal equinox. A lot of these rituals included fasting, fire, ringing bells, cleansing houses and temples, mock battles between life and death (or good and evil), release of sexual energy, feasts and merriment. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx to  point towards the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox.

The people of Bali celebrate the vernal equinox and their New Year by driving (according to their beliefs)  devils out of their villages by elaborate offerings of food, drink and money, and then observing a day of stillness, known as Nyepi.  

 


Flowers are considered the symbols of spring. Ancient sculptors and artists frequently used a female figure carrying flowers to depict springtime. Flowers not only  symbolize spring, but of transitory beauty associated with the season. A field of flowers is a popular Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary and the Church. The use of white flowers in particular are often associated with the Virgin.

The vernal equinox is celebrated all over the world in many ways. In the United States, spring remains a popular time for flower festivals and garden tours. And, just as seeds are planted in the spring, so is spring a time for other beginnings such as weddings and graduations.

Return to our March Holiday Observances Page.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

Flower Animations: Were taken from numerous sites offering free animations.
Since many offered the same ones, no credit is given since I do not know who the
real creators of these gifs are.

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