The vernal equinox from Latin literally means vernal=spring-like and equinox=equal night. While most people denote this day as the first day of spring, it technically translates to the day when there is a balance in the hours of daylight between night and day. As an astronomical event, the exact time and exact day in which this occurs varies from year to year but it is identified as on or near March 20. In the northern hemisphere, this means the seasons are heading toward summer via spring; in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are heading toward winter via autumn.
The vernal equinox is steeped in tradition and ritual throughout history, within religions, and across cultures. Early history links agrarian activities with this event: a time of planting, growth, and renewal. The ancient Celtic Druids of Britain celebrated Sun Festivals in honor of the vernal equinox, the Mayans recognized the Sun Serpent, the Egyptians paid homage to the birth of the sun god, Horus, through the union of Osiris and Isis, and pagan cultures recognized the Green Man as bringing forth the period of earth’s growth and reproduction. It was also a time of planting seeds from a human fertility perspective and thus, the egg is a cross-cultural symbol of spring. The German goddess of fertility, Ostara (among others), is also a familiar figure of the equinox.
There are also world structures in evidence which stand in testimony of the equinox’s significance and its role as a “time tracker.” The Mayans’ Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itz in Mexico presents the shadow of a snake (the Sun Serpent) on its steps each year on the vernal autumnal equinoxes. The Great Pyramid in Egypt uses precise mathematical measurements to identify the vernal equinox through the invisible equilateral triangle created among three points: the pyramid in the northern hemisphere, the correlating point in the southern hemisphere and the exact 60 degree angle of the sun on the date of the equinox. The monoliths at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England are said to be very spiritual drawing followers each year on the equinox.
In world mythologies, religions, and calendars similar beliefs are held adhering to the celebratory nature of the seasonal harbinger. The ancient Greeks believed spring growth was marked by the return to Earth of the goddess Persephone from the underworld where she had spent the previous six months with Hades. The world experienced sadness in her absence thus halting growth during the autumn and winter months. The resurrection of Jesus is the highlight of the Christian calendar in recognizing Easter in the spring. Persians hail the vernal equinox as the beginning of the New Year.
While there are many revered traditions tied to the vernal equinox, there are also more modern and less serious connections with this day and night of equal light. For example, it is believed that the equinox is the only day of the year when one may balance an egg on its small end. One is also supposed to open a window at the time of the vernal equinox to welcome spring in. Regardless of faith, ethnicity, or time zone, the vernal equinox bears significance universally as an optimistic turning point.
Other traditions about the vernal equinox relate to renewal rebirth and cleaning. During the Chinese New Year it is important to completely clean the house and remove any bad luck from the previous year. The vernal equinox was also when commitments were made between new lovers in anticipation of the upcoming hand fasting ceremony of the Summer Solstice