20 March 2014: The First Day of Spring. Yet I certainly don’t feel like summer is any closer than I did in the middle of winter. Today has been a rather dreary day, which isn’t the best way to start spring. For the past couple of days the snow was melting, but when I woke up I looked out my window to see a wearisome dusting of snow. Maybe celebrating the start of spring in March is a bit premature, or even—dare I say—unseasonal. Why is it that spring supposedly starts in March?
If you know much about astronomy, then you probably have a grasp on why spring happens around 20 March every year. At this time, the Earth experiences an equinox. This occurs twice a year (in March and September) when the Earth is not tilted towards or away from the sun. Equinox, as with many words, comes from Latin and means “equal night” since we have about 12 hours of day and 12 of night on the equinox. Keep in mind that the equinox is not the same as the solstice, since the solstice refers to the shortest day in the winter (around 21 December) and the longest day in the summer (around 21 June).
Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor and uncorroborated inventor of the Caesar salad, added the equinox to his calendar back in 45 BC. Pope Gregory altered the date slightly for the Gregorian calendar, which is what we use today.
Why does any of this matter? Well, back before people had calendars on their iPhones the equinox played an important role. You might have noticed that Passover and Easter are always after the March equinox. This is because these religious events are timed according to the appearance of the first full moon after the March equinox.
The equinox is also an important date for myth-makers. Myth-makers have created a number of stories that all relate to the March equinox. Did you know that today only you can stand a raw egg straight up on its round end? Brooms will also balance themselves.
Certain professions also pay attention to the equinox. In Maryland, USA, boatyard employees and sailboat owners see the March equinox as the end of winter, meaning that they no longer have to wear socks. They have a ceremonial sock burning festival where all the workers burn their socks in what is presumably a smelly fire. Socks are not worn again until the start of autumn.
Google also sees the importance of the equinox, since only the most important events are celebrated with a Google homepage doodle.
Nevertheless, Easter and Passover are still a ways off, my broom can’t stand by itself today (or on any other day), and I’m still wearing socks because it’s snowy outside. Mother Nature, I suppose, didn’t listen to the Pope when he made the calendar. Perhaps I should focus more on celebrating May Day (1 May), another spring ritual by which time we likely won’t have any snow left. Until then, I’m left wondering when warm spring days will finally arrive.
Information gathered from AccuWeather & Wikipedia.