There is something fresh and exciting about the first day of spring, pushing even those with gloomy dispositions toward optimism.
This year, spring arrived at 6:29 a.m. (Eastern Time) on March 20. That is the time the vernal equinox occurred – when the sun crossed the imaginary plane of the equator. It marks the day when nighttime and daylight are virtually the same length. After this, the number of daylight hours will continue to increase.
The vernal equinox (from the Latin words vernalis, meaning “of the spring” and equinox, meaning “equal night”) always occurs within the three-day period of March 19-21. Although the balance between day and night is roughly equal, it varies with the latitude. On the vernal equinox, you’ll also see the sun rise due east and set due west, no matter where you live.
Meteorologists tend to define the beginning of spring based on average temperatures for the local area.
Of course, just because the calendar is marked with the first day of spring on March 20, it doesn’t mean that “spring” as we know it actually takes place that day. In the southern United States, spring-like weather often begins earlier, and the southernmost areas like Florida and in California may not see a marked difference from the rest of the year. Meanwhile, in the northern United States and in Canada, spring weather may not arrive for another month.
The beginning of spring, whether on the vernal equinox or when the weather becomes truly spring-like, is a big deal around the world and many cultures have optimistic celebrations to welcome its arrival.
- In Poland, celebrants created straw-filled paper dolls to represent winter then drown them in a river or lake to symbolize the end of winter.
- In Switzerland, a large effigy of a snowman is burned in a public square to symbolize the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
- The Netherlands and Australia both host flower festivals to mark the beginning of spring.
- In Japan, people plan celebratory picnics under the cherry trees when the spring blossoms are in full bloom.
- In India, celebrants of Holi, the first day of spring, are smeared with various colored powders marking the triumph of good (spring) over evil (winter).
- The egg, the symbol of new life, is the center of attention in Bosnia’s Festival of Scrambled Eggs. Massive amounts of scrambled eggs are cooked in large pots on the first day of spring and handed out for free.
The United States doesn’t have any official First Day of Spring celebrations but it marks a time of year when people become more active outside, plant gardens and, of course, embark on spring cleaning chores. Often it coincides with Easter activities, although this year Easter falls nearly a month after the vernal equinox.