What is the Vernal Equinox?
When Exactly is the Vernal Equinox?
The Vernal Equinox is the day when the sun appears to cross the horizon at exactly the East in the morning at dawn, and directly in the West at sunset or dusk. The amount of daylight and darkness will be equal on this day. The exact date drifts from March 19th to March 22nd, due to that whole “leap year” business. In 2017, the Vernal Equinox falls on Monday, March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere.
Spring has been getting shorter recently, and summer has been getting longer (we are talking minutes here, not days). It’s somewhat complicated, so I’ll leave it as the topic of another discussion.
There is, of course, one other day during the year when the days are equal. This would be the Autumnal (fall) Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Other than that fact (equal day length), these two events have nothing in common. The Vernal Equinox is about the beginning of Spring and rebirth, as the days are getting progressively longer. The Autumnal Equinox is about preparing for Winter and harvest, as the days are getting progressively shorter.
Renewal and Rebirth
The significance of this day in the Northern hemisphere is the turning away from winter “shorter” days, and moving toward summer “longer” days. It has traditionally been a day for celebration, for as long as human history has been recorded. Presumably we humans like to frolic in the sunshine, and “sow seeds” as it were. This primarily relates to crops, but it applies to other things as well. So if you notice a bunch of birthdays on or around December 21st, it should no longer be a mystery to you.
Many Spring Celebrations
Many celebrations occur in Spring. You are probably aware that Christians celebrate Easter (the name coming from Eostre, a Germanic goddess of spring), which is an observance of rebirth and resurrection. This is only one tradition. Ostara is the celebration of the spring equinox in the Wicca belief system (which is NOT Satanic, regardless of what you may have heard to the contrary). In the Jewish faith, Passover is celebrated. The Achaemenians observed a 13-day festival of Nowruz, or “new day” around the spring equinox, which is a celebration of hope and renewal. The Iranian festival of Chahar-Shanbeh Suri occurs just before Nowruz.
There are many more celebrations around this time of year. There is even a “Burning of the Socks” festival for boatyard employees and sailboat owners. Socks are generally only worn in winter months. Burning these socks marks the beginning of warmer weather and a resurgence of work related to the sea.
No discussion of Spring would be complete without mentioning “Spring Break.” While not an “official” festival per se, it is widely observed by North American schools and elsewhere around the world. Originally associated with Easter, today’s celebrations are about as far from a religious observance as they can get.
In Five Element Theory (part of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM), Spring is the time for rejuvenation and springtime cleansing. Spring is associated with the element “wood,” and the liver and gallbladder organs. Liver is responsible for smooth flowing Qi (roughly translated as “energy” in the West). When Qi flows smoothly throughout the body, physical and emotional health are maximized. So spring is an excellent time to move your Qi. Get out there and walk, plant a garden, or clean the attic and garage!
How Will You Celebrate?
Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), you will no doubt be doing things differently because of the increased daylight and warmth. It’s part of the human condition. Now you just have a slightly larger frame of reference for your activities.
Happy Spring everyone!