This Sunday, March 20, 2022 marks the official arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The so-called “vernal equinox” is one of two moments in the year when the sun is directly above the equator and day and night are almost equal in length. The word “equinox” comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). After this equinox, days will start to be increasingly longer than nights until the summer solstice from June 21.
The seasons occur because the Earth is tilted over slightly on its axis. While for half of the year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun (spring and summer), for the other half, it is tilted further away from the sun (autumn and winter). However, twice a year (in March and September, during the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes), the sun is directly over the equator, so neither hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are flipped, with the March equinox marking the beginning of autumn, and the September one the beginning of spring.
The vernal equinox signals new beginnings and nature’s renewal. Worms and grubs start reappearing, birds begin their migration to the north, along the path of the sun, and trees, plants, and shrubs are starting to bloom.
Since prehistoric times, people worldwide have celebrated the arrival of spring through various festivities. Famous examples include the ancient spring equinox celebrations that took place at Chichen Itza in Mexico, where the Mayans built a huge pyramid around the year 1,000 CE. Even today, the way the sun falls on this pyramid signals the passage of seasons. On the vernal equinox, it creates a mixture of light and shade resembling a huge snake slithering down the steps of the pyramid. Mayans called this day “the return of the Sun serpent.”
Other famous celebrations of the arrival of spring include the Christian festivity of Easter, the Jewish Passover, the Hindi Holi, the Persian Nohruz, and the Thai Songkran. All these events are centered around myths of renewal and rebirth, offering hope to people worldwide that, similarly to nature, they will rise again and start life anew.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer