When Is the First Day of Spring 2023? 11 Facts About the Spring Equinox
The vernal equinox happens every year, yet most people don't know what it is or why it's important. Here's the scientific—and spiritual—scoop on the first day of spring.
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When is the first day of spring?
Bring on March 20, 2023! You may have heard that the spring equinox is the official first day of spring, and it’s true that this auspicious event traditionally marked the start of spring for many different cultures as well as the start of the new year on ancient Indian and Persian calendars. Even today, the spring (or “vernal”) equinox, is often used to indicate the first day of spring. What it really signifies, though, is the astronomical start of spring as opposed to the meteorological one. Meteorological seasons are grouped by months and are based on weather and temperature shifts. Meteorologists and climatologists agree that the first real day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere should be March 1.
What is the spring equinox?
An equinox is a moment in time and space when the sun is positioned directly above the Earth’s equator, which happens just twice a year on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. In March (usually the 20th or 21st), the sun crosses the equator from south to north, bringing warmth and light back to the Northern Hemisphere and plunging the Southern Hemisphere into its fall and winter darkness. In September (around the 22nd or 23rd), the sun crosses back from south to north, heralding the start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of spring in the Southern one.
Let’s look at some of the most interesting facts about the spring equinox. Then find out what the spring equinox means for your zodiac and browse spring quotes and spring jokes that you can share when the equinox comes around.
The word “equinox” has an interesting meaning
The word “equinox” comes from the Latin for “equal” and “night.” As the sun crosses the equator (Earth’s midline), the hours of daylight and nighttime are very nearly equal. The equinoxes are the only times when the sun rises directly due East and sets directly due West for everyone on Earth. Don’t miss these fun facts about the fall equinox.
There’s an equinox celebration involving an ancient serpent god
In Mexico, in the ruins of the Mayan city Chichén Itzá, crowds gather at the ancient El Castillo pyramid every spring and fall equinox to witness an equinox celebration that dates back to the construction of the pyramid around 1,000 A.D. The Maya were skilled astronomers, and the pyramid is dedicated to the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. At sunset on the equinoxes, the angle of the sun creates shadows that look like a giant snake. The light-and-shadow snake appears to slither down the pyramid steps until it merges with the huge sculpted serpent’s head at the bottom. Get ready for the season with these photos to celebrate the start of spring.
There’s a “Worm Moon” in March
We all know that spring is a time of renewal and new growth. From the first crocuses and snowdrops emerging to the daffodils and tulips, the new season is what the spring equinox is all about. March showers may bring April flowers, but they also bring worms up and out of the soil. Earthworms typically spend the winter buried deep below the frost line, but the annual spring showers reduce the oxygen in the soil and cause them to make their way up to the surface. That’s why the first full moon in the month of March is known as the Worm Moon. If you’re posting spring pictures to social media, don’t forget to use a nice spring caption to make your posts pop.
There’s a mysterious spring equinox tradition involving eggs
What is the spring equinox? Why, a day of magic, of course. Folklore claims that special magnetic or energetic changes on the day of the vernal equinox make it possible to stand a raw egg on its end. As cool as this sounds, it’s a myth. You can balance some raw eggs on their end, but you could do it any time of year.
According to the Washington Post, this egg story may stem from Chinese Lunar New Year traditions that have their roots in the Shang Dynasty, which ruled China for nearly six centuries. Legend has it that on the vernal equinox in the year 1,600 B.C., a woman named Chien-Ti received a special egg from a heavenly swallow. In a story that bears similarities to Jesus’s birth in Christianity, the virgin Chien-Ti became pregnant. Her child, Hsieh, went on to found the Shang dynasty, and the tale is how the family explained its divine right to rule.
The Cybele cult celebrated the spring equinox
For a certain group of ancient Romans, the vernal equinox was a day to celebrate the deity Cybele, a goddess closely associated with nature and fertility. A cult sprung up around her, and her festival was celebrated similarly to rituals surrounding Dionysus, god of wine: There were wild parties, dancing, drinking and sex. Cybele’s festival also included a Christmas-like tree ritual, where celebrants would cut down a pine tree and bring it to her shrine, decorating it with flowers and worshiping it as a representative of the goddess.
In another interesting twist, Cybele’s priests, the Galli, were self-made eunuchs who grew their hair long and dressed as females; during Cybele’s festival, they joined in the religious fervor until they collapsed. Check out these modern (and less rambunctious) celebrations of spring around the world.
Other planets have equinoxes too
We’re not the only planet that gets to experience an equinox. In fact, every planet in the solar system has an equinox, which occurs when the planet’s orbit and tilt, with respect to the sun, results in both hemispheres receiving about the same amount of light. Here are some fascinating astronomy facts you never learned in school.
There’s a myth that a gateway to hell opens during the spring equinox
In a cemetery on Emanuel Hill, in the tiny town of Stull, Kansas, lies a so-called gateway to hell, author Mark Moran writes in Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Legend has it that this gateway is one of several places around the world where the devil himself can enter the human world. He can only do it twice a year, and one of those days is the vernal equinox. The other is Halloween, naturally.
Since the 1970s, people visiting the cemetery on these days report hearing disembodied growling, being grabbed by unseen arms and experiencing amnesia. Maybe stay away from Kansas in the spring and fall.
There’s also a myth involving poisoned waters during the spring equinox
In ancient Judaic mythology, there’s a claim that the water in springs and rivers becomes unsafe to drink during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (and during the winter and summer solstices too), reports the Times of Israel. The solstices and equinoxes were considered spiritually vulnerable moments, when warring supernatural powers might release cosmic poisons into the water.
A 12th-century scholar wrote, “The venom falls into the springs and aquifers whose waters flow to the valleys and hills, into every pool of water on the face of the earth and into the waters inside wooden and stone vessels. The waters will kill all who drink from them at this hour.” Water doesn’t actually turn poisonous on the equinoxes, but superstitious folks might want to switch to a different beverage for the day.
The date of Easter is determined by the spring equinox
Unlike Thanksgiving or Independence Day, the exact date of Easter changes from year to year. Deciding what day Easter will fall on is a matter of great importance to Christian churches because it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s so important, according to Panos Antsaklis, PhD, a professor at Notre Dame University, that in the 4th century A.D., a group of Christian leaders came together to officially decide how to calculate Easter’s date. Their decision: Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
Powerful river waves appear during the spring equinox
Waves large and powerful enough to surf on typically only occur in oceans or massive lakes. But during extreme tides—usually after a new or full moon—waves known as “tidal bores” can pop up in rivers. The biggest and most surfable tidal bores take place during the spring and autumn equinoxes.
One notable example occurs in a river estuary near Gloucestershire, England. Called the Severn Bore, the wave rolls through every morning for two or three days around the equinox, and surfers from around the world gather to ride it. Maybe being on the water helps with seasonal allergies.
The spring equinox correlates with the Persian New Year
The Persian New Year celebration known as Nowruz kicks off at the vernal equinox and lasts for 13 days. On the night of the equinox, Iranian families gather for a holiday meal and count down to the first stroke of their new year with a cheer of “Eide Shoma Mobarak,” or “Happy New Year!” The holiday table, called the haft seen, is decorated with seven ceremonial items: an apple representing beauty, vinegar for patience, hyacinth for spring, a sweet pudding for fertility, sprouts representing rebirth and coins for prosperity.
- The Washington Post: “Meteorological vs. Astronomical Seasons: Which is more useful?”
- History: “Vernal Equinox”
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: “The First Day of Spring 2023: The Spring Equinox”
- The Washington Post: “Spring Starts Sunday: Five myths about the equinox, debunked”
- Mark Moran, author of Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
- Bustle: “The Weird History of the Spring Equinox”
- Britannica: “Great Mother of the Gods”
- Britannica: “Galli”
- National Geographic: “Why the equinox ushers in the arrival of fall”
- Jewish Standard: “Ancient Fears, Modern Tragedy”
- Panos Antsaklis, PhD: “The Dates of Easter Sunday”
- The Guardian: “Surfers ride the Severn bore”
- NPR: “Nowruz: Persian New Year’s Table Celebrates Spring Deliciously”