What more can be said about this winter? Long, bitterly cold nights. Lots of snow and ice. And, yes, it snowed again today.
But great changes are afoot. In just 19 days -on March 20th- we will experience the Vernal Equinox, the official beginning of Spring. In the Northern Hemisphere, daylight will now begin to exceed darkness.
The Vernal Equinox is the day in which the Equator passes under the center of the sun, and the northern and southern Hemispheres are illuminated equally.
The Vernal Equinox is also the beginning of the next Solar Year, the “period of time required for the earth to make one complete revolution around the sun, measured from one vernal equinox to the next and equal to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45.51 seconds.”
Equality of Day and Night
The Fall and Spring equinoxes are popularly understood as the two days in which day and night are of exactly equal length. But, according to National Geographic, precisely when that happens depends on where you are located on the surface of the Earth.
“True days of day-night equality always fall before the vernal equinox and after the autumnal, or fall, equinox,” they write.
National Geographic explains why the equinox is so significant:
“The fall and spring equinoxes, for starters, are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west, according to Alan MacRobert, senior editor with Sky & Telescope magazine.
The equinoxes are also the only days of the year when a person standing on the Equator can see the sun passing directly overhead.
On the Northern Hemisphere’s vernal equinox day, a person at the North Pole would see the sun skimming across the horizon, beginning six months of uninterrupted daylight.
A person at the South Pole would also see the sun skim the horizon, but it would signal the start of six months of darkness.”
Marking a Moment of Transition
The end of winter, and the return of daylight, is marked across the globe.
I came across this description of the significance of the Vernal Equinox in The Path of the Spiritual Sun.
“In Christianity, the spring equinox is the time of the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Likewise in ancient Egypt, it is the time of the resurrection of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris; and the resurrection of the Mayan Maize God Hun Hunahpu. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt, symbol of resurrection, gazes precisely at the rising of the spring equinox sun.
The temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia aligns to the spring equinox, and depicts the scene of the “churning of the milky ocean”—the struggle between the forces of light and darkness.
At the temple of the feathered serpent in Mexico at Chichen Itza, the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl ascends the nine terraces of the pyramid on the spring equinox.”
Is the above historical analysis totally accurate? I can’t say, but it is an obvious point that pre-industrial societies were deeply impacted by the cycles of the natural world.
What is interesting to think about -as winter recedes and the sun’s arc widens- is to what degree we still are.
Photo credit: Sarah Crean