First Day of Spring 2020: The Spring Equinox

Celebrate the Vernal Equinox and The Start of Spring!

October 3, 2019
Welcome Spring Equinox

In 2020, the spring equinox (also called the March equinox or vernal equinox) falls on Thursday, March 19. This event marks the astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Before you try to balance that egg, read this!

When is the First Day of Spring?

Spring begins with the vernal equinox, which always occurs on March 19, 20, or 21. 

Year Spring Equinox (Northern Hemisphere)
2020 Thursday, March 19, at 11:49 P.M. EDT
2021 Saturday, March 20, at 5:37 A.M. EDT
2022 Sunday, March 20, at 11:33 A.M. EDT
2023 Monday, March 20, at 5:24 P.M. EDT

What Does the Equinox Mean?

The word equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night”—aequus (equal) and nox (night). 

On the equinox, the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. 

With the equinox, enjoy the increasing sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets. See your personalized Sun rise and set calculator.

equinox_full_width.png
Image: On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the Sun’s rays about equally. 

What Happens on the March Equinox?

On the March Equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. It’s called the “celestial equator”  because it’s an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator.

If you were standing on the equator, the Sun would pass directly overhead on its way north. 

Equinoxes are the only two times a year that Sun only rises due east and sets due west for all of us on Earth!

While the Sun passes overhead, the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun. (Note, however, that the Earth never orbits upright, but is always tilted on its axis by about 23.5 degrees.)

After the Spring equinox, the Norther Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun, which is why we start to get longer, sunnier days.

Read more about the reason for the seasons.

Crocus field spring
Crocuses are a sure sign of spring!

Spring Equinox FAQs

Q: Does Spring Begin on March 1 or on the Equinox?

A: Well, both. The answer depends on your definition of “spring.” Both dates are accurate; they’re just from different perspectives. We’ll explain …

Astronomically speaking, the first day of spring is marked by the spring equinox, which falls on March 19, 20, or 21 every year. The equinox happens at the same moment worldwide, though our clock times reflect a different time zone. And, as mentioned above, this date only signals spring’s beginning in the Northern Hemisphere; it announces fall’s arrival in the Southern Hemisphere.

Interestingly, due to time zone differences, there isn’t a March 21 equinox in mainland U.S. during the entire 21st century! Plus, we won’t see a March 21 in the world again until 2101.

Meteorologically speaking, the official first day of spring is March 1 (and the last is May 31). Weather scientists divide the year into quarters to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun, and they more closely follow the Gregorian calendar. Using the dates of the astronomical equinoxes and solstices for the seasons would present a statistical problem, as these dates can vary slightly each year.

Daffodils
Did you know that daffodils are one of March’s Birth Flowers?

Q: Are Day and Night Equal on the Equinox?

A: No, but they are close to equal. In reality, day and night are not exactly equal at the equinox for two reasons: First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the Sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.’

Read about more fun facts in the Almanac Astronomer’s post, “March Equinox Oddities.”

Q: According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. Is this true?

A:  This egg folklore became popular in 1945 following a LIFE article about the spring adage. “The origins of this myth are attributed to stories that the ancient Chinese would create displays of eggs standing on end during the first day of spring,” John Millis, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Anderson University. “The ancient Chinese celebrated the first day of spring about six weeks earlier than the equinox” so it’s not just on the equinox itself.

As with most folklore, it’s only partly true. It should be balance an egg on its end but also it’s possible to balance an egg on other days, too.

Folklore or not, this egg trick sounded like fun to us. One spring, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, several Almanac editors tried this trick. For a full workday, 17 out of 24 eggs stood standing. Three days later, we tried this trick again and found similar results. Perhaps 3 days after the equinox was still too near. Perhaps the equinox has nothing to do with it. Perhaps we just don’t like to take ourselves too seriously!

Try this yourself and let us know what happens. (Tip: You’ll probably have better luck balancing the egg if you use a rough surface or an egg that has a bumpy end.)

Spring bird bath

Q: Which Day Has the Most Sunlight in North America?

A:  The Summer or June Solstice is called the “longest” day of the year! The date of the longest day actually varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and the local time zone. By “longest day,” we mean the day that gets the most daylight (versus darkness). See our Summer Solstice page.

How Do You Celebrate the Vernal Equinox?

To us, the vernal equinox signals new beginnings and nature’s renewal in the Northern Hemisphere!
Many cultures celebrate spring festivals, like Easter and Passover.

Observe nature around you!

  • Are the worms emerging from the earth? (The March Full Moon is called “The Full Worm Moon” for this very reason!)
  • Watch the arc of the Sun across the sky as it shifts toward the north. Birds are migrating northward, along with the path of the Sun.
  • Are you noticing that the days are getting longer? Did you know that the increasing sunlight is what triggers birds to sing? Cool, eh? Enjoy our Bird Songs page.
  • Are the daffodils poking up their heads? Trees, shrubs, and flowers are sensitive to temperature and day-length, too! Since ancient days, people have used them as indicators of when the weather is right for planting. For example: Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips, and spinach. See more of nature’s signs.
  • Can you feel the Sun getting stronger? The longer days bring high temperatures. Both we and the animals around us strip off our clothes and heavy coats!
  • Are you getting itchy to get outdoors? March is time to start gardens and sow seeds in many regions. See the best planting dates according to your local frost dates or our Vegetable Gardening for Beginners guide for gardening tips!
  • Are you craving fresh foods after a long winter? A Spring Tonic, using the early greens of spring, may be just the thing you need! Also, find some new spring recipes using what’s fresh and seasonal!
     

Rabbit with clover flower

Ancient Equinox Traditions: The Snake of Sunlight

Scientific explanation aside, our ancestors were more connected to the Sun than we are today. They observed its pathway across the sky; they tracked how the sunrise, sunset, and day length changed, using the Sun (and Moon) as a clock and calendar.

There are many ancient sites that mark the equinoxes (and solstices). One of the most famous ancient Spring equinox celebrations was at Chichen Itza in Mexico. The Mayans built a huge pyramid around the year A.D. 1000.  The play of the Sun’s light on it signals the beginning of the seasons. On the spring equinox, it looks like a huge snake is slithering down the steps. Mayans called this day “the return of the Sun serpent.”

chichen-itza_full_width_0.jpg

See more examples of ancient seasonal markers.

Spring Verse, Quotes, and Sayings

Verse

  • For glad Spring has begun,
    And to the ardent sun
    The earth, long time so bleak,
    Turns a frost-bitten cheek.

    - Celia Thaxter, American poet (1835–94)
     
  • Spring-time sweet!
    The whole Earth smiles, thy coming to greet. 
    - Unknown
     
  • Never yet was a springtime,
    Late though lingered the snow,
    That the sap stirred not at the whisper
    Of the southwind, sweet and low.

    - Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, American writer (1838–1912)

Quotes

  • Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”
    - Robin Williams (1951–2014)

Sayings

  • Bluebirds are a sign of spring; warm weather and gentle south breezes they bring.
  • One swallow does not make a spring.
  • In spring, no one thinks of the snow that fell last year.
  • When the dandelions bloom early in spring, there will be a short season. When they bloom late, expect a dry summer. 
  • Don’t say that spring has come until you can put your foot on nine daisies.

Learn More About the First Days of Seasons

The First Days of the Seasons are marked by four astronomical events:

Look around! Observe! What are the signs of spring in your region? Please share in the comments below!

720x480-gardening.jpg

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Spring!

The first signs of spring in southwestern Oregon are the blooming of the ornamental trees, the horses shedding, the birds making nests and of course the daffodils! These are all happening before and on the spring equinox.

THE SUN'S LIFEGIVING WARMTH

Here in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada we have water running. The warmth of the Spring sun causes the snow to melt and the resulting drips, drops, and tinkling of melted snow let me know Spring has arrived. It runs through the yards, down the driveways and away into the drains, the ground is still frozen solid so it can't absorb the moisture. Traditionally gardens here go in on May long weekend when the ground is warm. Our squirrels are chasing each other around and around and up and down the trees. Spring and love is definitely in the warming air. Kate Kent my Mother said the same rhyme, she was of Highland Scotts descent (McKay and McTavish). I too am wont to repeat it even now. Cheers to all and Happy Spring!

Spring is Sprung

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz
Wonder where is birdies iz ~~

My Irish American Gran, Alice Mae Hurd Kent quoted this to her kids.
Who quoted it to her grankids, and I continue saying this funny little couplet to my grankids.

spring has arrived

In Mississippi it really isn't Spring until the pecan trees start to bud out. They are the last to bud out in the Spring.

FIRST day of spring

Spring might start on the 20th but the first DAY of spring is the 21st. It’s also my birthday. So there.

The Vernal Equinox

Happily, gratefully anticipating today's magic moment of 5:58 PM EDT. I have this quote up on our fridge year-round:
"The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May."
- Edwin Way Teale

Well the first day of spring

find the robins have returned, and temperatures are starting to moderate here in SE Minnesota. Still piles of snow in parking lots & at the end of driveways but all the signs of a changing season are there to embrace. Hurray !!

Spring on the edge of Dartmoor

Daffodils, blossom, bushes greening up, Magnolia in full bloom, grape hyacinths

Spring/Winter

Ladybugs and spiders,
crocus and snowbells,
robins and gnatcatchers, cardinals and crows
buds on the lilacs, snow on the ground
forsythia hiding and irises teasing.
is it spring or winter, or merely mud season?

Spring Equinox

On the North Pole, today is the only day the sun rises for the entire year. Six months of night is over and six months of day begins.

equinox

by assuming a certain stance and going thru a series of breathing exercises with correct north, south body alignment it is possible to GREATLY increase your chi (life force) this can be done 4 days a year ( 2 equinoxes and 2 solstices) this can be done anytime however it is MOST effective on these 4 days. been doing this for over 40 years and i assure you it is real!!!

Stance

I would love to know what stance and breathing techniques you use. Please share!

I would love to hear more

I would love to hear more about this technique! Please share.

First day of spring

Here in central Arizona first day of spring usually brings on the blooming of many cactus species. In my front yard a beavertail put out its first bloom yesterday. the rest of the plant is heavily covered in buds so it will be covered in beautiful purple flowers by the end of the week.

Spring equinox

We're already in th 21st century, so you must mean no March 21 equinox until the 22nd century.

future Springs

We had meant that for 2001-2100, there hadn’t been/won’t be a March 21 equinox in mainland U.S. But the way the article was written was a little confusing, so we have revised to make this clearer. Past that, there will be times when the U.S. experiences spring on March 21, such as in 2103 in Eastern Daylight Time. Thank you!

spring sign

Another sign of spring: A Red Bud tree visible deep in the other sleeping trees...

Spring correction

Interesting that Google used a mouse in their doodle for spring equinox.
I would have to say its more like the Vermin Equinox.

Sign of the Vernal Equinox

Technically speaking at the point when the temperature does not get any colder after weeks of the temperature dipping, winter has hit a bottom. Then there should be a sign of a turn upwards from this bottom which can last a while. Signs of the weather changing for the better will be consistent higher lower temperatures coupled with higher high temperatures for the day over at least two consecutive weeks. It is more like a slow awakening of summer and not a sudden rocket blast of upward temperatures or even simply a one day high in the middle of the week.

Signs of Spring in the Pacific NW

Signs of Spring all around with the call of the Mourning Dove seeking its mate, the Raven overhead dutifully carrying twigs over yonder, played ball in the backyard because the last of the 3' of snow has finally melted, the hardy Black-Capped Chickadees flits about with jubilation that they survived that hard winter, the Oregon Juncos are passing through, as usual for this time of year, headed to their favorite warmer clime, the squirrels are dashing about eagerly looking for those peanuts buried last Fall and the Rhubarb is peaking out, yet once again, after a long winter rest.

Spring!

Lovely collection of indicators, CaraMia, thank you!

Sign of spring. St. Charles, IL

More dependable than robins, they have wintered over the past few years.

When the golden eyes (ducks) return, just passing through, on their way north.

Weather

I'm done with all this cold weather in New York, when I goona get warmer?

Science

I'm so glad for science!

The Divine Truth of the realism of God's Existence .

God rules in the affairs of man and all other creations.

Vernal Equinox- early spring March 20, 2016

What a brilliant and educational article. Truly enjoyed.

poem

dew sunlight on bloom
hummingbird sips sweet nectar
spring splendour abounds

Are day and night truly equal on the equinox

I have often wondered from the teaching of Buckminster Fuller about the daily rotation of the Earth and not the movement of the Sun that accounts for the beginning and end of each day why scientists and others continue to perpetuate the long since refuted belief that the Sun moves around the Earth. For example why the Almanac explanation that "daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon" instead of the moment the horizon exposes any part of the Sun and "is not over until the last part of the Sun has set" instead of until the last part of the Sun disappears (behind the horizon)?

Great Info!

Thanks for a comprehensive and easy to follow explanation. It's great that the almanc is now available electronically and I refer to it regularly. Keep up the great work!

Pages