When is the first day of spring? The first day of spring is also known by other names like “Vernal equinox”, “spring equinox” or “March equinox”. The term equinox means “equal night”. It marks the beginning of spring in the Earth’s northern hemisphere and fall in the Earth’s southern hemisphere. It occurs twice a year, once in spring and once in fall, in March and September, and it means that the sun is positioned directly above the equator making the length of day and night nearly equal in all parts of the planet. In the northern hemisphere spring starts in the third quarter of March, to be precise – on March 20.
Day and night will be balanced to nearly 12 hours each (which depends on the distance from the equator – day is slightly longer in places that are further away from it) and the Earth’s axis of rotation will be perpendicular to the line that connects the centers of the Earth and the Sun.
Many cultures celebrate spring as the time of rebirth and renewal, because it represents the beginning of the growing season for most plants after long and often harsh winters.
Spring and Mythology
In the ancient Mayan ruin of Chichén Itzá, many people gather every year for the Celebration of the Vernal equinox, when the sun rises in the sky and shines across the edges of the Kukulkan Pyramid’s steps, casting the shadow of a giant snake that slithers down the pyramid to reconnect with its disembodied head at the bottom. The snake is a depiction of an ancient Mayan legend about Quetzalcoatl, the “feathered serpent”, but the Mayas surely had equinox in mind, not just blind faith in gods, when they designed the pyramid. We know that their astronomers were far ahead of their time.
Greek mythology can also tell us something about the ancient understanding of season changing. The myth of Persephone, who was the goddess queen of the underworld and the wife of Hades, is one of those myths. She was celebrated as the goddess of spring growth but was abducted by Hades, who wanted to make her his wife, while she was picking flowers alongside other nymphs. Her mother, Demeter, was furious because of her daughter’s abduction and she refused to allow the earth to fruit until Persephone is home again. However, she tasted the fruit of Hades, which meant she had to stay in the underworld during one part of the year. That part of the year is winter, when everything sleeps and nothing blooms. After Persephone’s return, nature will awake, meadows will start to flourish, and the spring will finally start.