Spring Equinox: Definition, Meaning, Celebrations, Traditions for 2014 March Equinox

By Zack
March 17, 2014 7:02 pm Last Updated: March 17, 2014 7:02 pm

The Spring Equinox, or the March Equinox or Vernal Equinox, signals the beginning of spring and the renewal of the Earth as plants begin to bloom again and animals come out of hibernation. 

That’s for the Northern Hemisphere–for the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox marks the beginning of fall.

The exact moment of the equinox is when the sun crosses the equator going from south to north. It’s on on March 20 in 2014.

It will be at 16:57 UTC, or 12:37 p.m. ET. 

The event happens during the Earth’s orbit around the sun and simultaneously on the imaginary dome of our sky. The equator is an imaginary line drawn right around Earth’s middle, like a belt. It divides Earth into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere., explains NASA. At the equinox, the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s northern hemisphere.

The Earth makes a complete revolution around the sun once every 365 days. The National Weather Service explains that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun in June and away from the sun in December. The equinox marks the beginning of the tilt back toward the sun.

Copyright 1999 J. Hacker/M. Fuhs

(NOAA)

The word equinox is derived from two Latin words–aequus (equal) and nox (night). On the equinox and for several days before and after, the length of day will be close to 12 hours, though depending on the location it would be up to 12 hours and six minutes. 

The equinox falls between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice which marks when the sun is directly overhead at the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere.

Globe showing rays of sunlight hitting Earth at Summer Solstice, perpendicular to Tropic of Cancer line in Northern Hemisphere.

The Sun is directly overhead at “high-noon” on Summer Solstice at the latitude called the Tropic of Cancer. (NOAA)

Globe showing rays of sunlight hitting Earth at Winter Solstice, perpendicular to Tropic of Capricorn line in Southern Hemisphere.

The Sun is directly overhead at “high-noon” on Winter Solstice at the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. (NOAA)

“The Sun is directly overhead at ‘high-noon’ on the equator twice per year, at the two equinoxes. Spring (or Vernal) Equinox is usually March 20, and Fall (or Autumnal) equinox is usually September 22. Except at the equator, the equinoxes are the only dates with equal daylight and dark. At the equator, all days of the year have the same number of hours of light and dark,” according to NASA.

“Between the two tropics zones, which includes the equator, the Sun is directly overhead twice per year. Outside the tropic zones, whether to the south or north, the Sun is never directly overhead.”

Drawing of Earth orbit around Sun showing sunlight angles at solstices and equinoxes.

(NOAA)

The traditions associated with the Spring Equinox go way back, allegedly to the time of the ancient Saxons in northern Europe. They worshiped a goddess named Oestre at the time. 

Ancient Egyptians held the Festival of Isis to celebrate spring and rebirth. Ancient Romans celebrated the Feast of Cybele, which was a similar celebration with more violence. The Iranian New Year is celebrated during the March Equinox, as it has been for a long time. Judaism’s Passover takes place during this time.

In more modern times, Easter is now close to the Spring Equinox. Higan, a national week of Buddhist services in Japan, was placed during the March and September equinoxes. The worldwide Earth Day was placed on March 20. 

Ways to celebrate the holiday include: having a family reunion (which the Japanese do, as well as visiting family graves); celebrate your mother (many Arab countries celebrate Mother’s Day on this day); and try to stand an egg on its end, which is linked to the equinox.