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!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Amen, He surely is.. Sooner

Amen, He surely is.. Sooner than any of us know !!

So when does the countdown

So when does the countdown for Jesus' COMING begin? 2000 years ago?

Several years ago, I balanced

Several years ago, I balanced about 6 eggs from a dozen on their ends - the small pointed end, not the fatter end as seen in the image at the top. They were on a counter top next to the refrigerator, so we were careful about not shutting the door hard. I photographed them. They did not all fall over at the same time. Some lasted a week. That was before digital cameras or cell phones with cameras, so the photos were unable to be manipulated. My students were not all that impressed, however.

Broom? Ridiculous!

I balance eggs every year~ it

I balance eggs every year~ it has become my springtime ritual. I set my intentions (similar to New Year's resolutions) , then I dye the raw eggs with Easter egg dye. After that, I draw a symbol on each egg, to symbolize each intention. About 30 minutes before the equinox, I start balancing. I almost always get all twelve eggs balanced (and on a flat surface like the countertop ~ no cheating). I have also balanced a broom, for hours!

I would realy like to try

I would realy like to try this with my two young children. What time do u start it, or can u start it any time on this coming Friday?

Curious~ you can decorate the

Curious~ you can decorate the eggs earlier in the day, if you wish. I usually start trying to balance an hour ahead of the actual Equinox, and can usually get an entire dozen balanced. You will probably have success at any time that day, though. It's just fun to have them mostly standing at the moment of the equinox, if possible. The Equinox us at 4:45 in the afternoon where I am, which is Denver, (mountain time zone). Good luck, and Happy Spring!

P.S. the eggs have to be raw,

P.S. the eggs have to be raw, NOT cooked, and it helps if you let them stay out at room temp for about an hour before balancing.

If you can get your children

If you can get your children to stand still that long that would be amazing. Try balancing them on the small end;)

Years ago I balanced an egg

Years ago I balanced an egg on end during the equinox on my kitchen counter. I decided to leave it sit and see what happened. I left a towel wraped about 6" around it so if it fell over it would not fall on the floor. About 3 weeks later, I was in the living room, heard a noise, and the egg had fallen over. So my therory is, you can probably do it for about 1-3 weeks on either side of the equinox. I have never tested this however. I have tried to balance one at other times, and have never been able to do it except during the equinox.

Unfortunately, the tilt of

Unfortunately, the tilt of Earth does not affect gravitational pull, as gravity pulls towards the center of mass, regardless of where on the globe or the relative tilt of the Earth's orbit to the orbital plane.

You are correct that the tilt

You are correct that the tilt of the earth does not affect earth's gravity. However, every object has mass. The sun's considerable mass creates gravity strong enough to create tides in the ocean. I don't know if the egg cares, however.

It is actually the moon's

It is actually the moon's gravity which creates the tides.

The moon and the Sun

The moon and the Sun

The actual tidal influence of

The actual tidal influence of the sun is 44% of that of the Moon.

Both the moon and the sun

Both the moon and the sun affect gravity

Excuse me, but every 6th

Excuse me, but every 6th grade student learns it is the MOON's gravity that influences the tides.

SEVENTH GRADERS learn that

SEVENTH GRADERS learn that tides are influenced by both the sun and the moon.

Earth is round like an orange

Earth is round like an orange

The earth is elliptical

I was told in Astronomy that because of opposing magnetic forces within the earth's core in conjunction with the gravitational pull of the earth and sun, the earth has an elliptical shape. It is not a perfect circle like an orange.

I don't believe that

I don't believe that textbooks are the holy grail of truthful information.

Eggs are a lot like people,

Eggs are a lot like people, they are unbalanced.

When I was in grade school I

When I was in grade school I completed a science project based on a similar egg experiment. Since I've been an adult, I have tried it several other times; the reasoning, I don't know but it does have something to do with the earth's placement and possibly the distribution of gravitational pull that occurs during the spring equinox time frame. I have not given it much scientific thought or planning; I just know that the egg experiment has consistently failed when it has been tried outside of a certain time-frame of the equinox pattern. It has also consistently worked when practiced within a few days of the spring equinox. In grade school, we were taught that it worked for the same reasons that the original person who posted this comment explained.

I live near Memphis, TN and

I live near Memphis, TN and personally to me, my seasons are: Spring, Summer, Fall and "Almost Spring" !! I try not to even acknowledge winter (although I really do enjoy the Thanksgiving to Christmas season). Spring to me is the most magical time of the year!! I look forward to getting out and gardening, I love the smells in the air and all the Spring colors in the flowers and trees; everything seems to be alive and reborn. But mostly I look forward to the return of my Purple Martin colony and the blooming of the Cherry tree orchards; it's all just so enchanting!! Happy Spring everyone. :D

Your not the only one out

Your not the only one out there and these people are not anything like that but how would I know that I don't I just assume it. But you will know me sooner or later and you will testify about me and what I'm like this whole world will. I guarantee that this day on forth. Haha!!!!

I hate winter in the

I hate winter in the springtime.
I hate winter in the fall.
I hate winter in the summer but,
I hate winter in the winter most of all!

I hate summer in the

I hate summer in the springtime.
I hate summer in the fall.
I am okay with summer in the summer but,
I hate summer in the winter most of all!

Couldn't resist :-) Winter will end, snow will melt and you'll enjoy the waters and the new green. Living in the drought stricken So Calif. 2015 is our 4th year without seasonal rain and temps. Just the hot sun and dryness each day ... by 'summer' we'll be brown again and then our only season - the fire season - will start and the firemen will have to figure out what to use to put them out.

Cool

Cool

Wow... Checked this website

Wow... Checked this website to see time the vernal equinox occurs... I'm so happy 'spring' has arrived for the northern hemisphere. Reading through these comments makes me think we've all been batted down by this past winter... Lots of owly comments here! Happy spring peeps!

Agree with that! What ever

Agree with that! What ever happened to civility and politeness? Let's all be happy, for one day at least, and pleasant!

Ha I am surprised to find

Ha I am surprised to find myself reading your comments on this beautiful day! Many have shared some insightful facts about the vernal equinox, and others have how do
you say, frankly, or without consideration argued over specific verbage. Thank you however i have one question on my mind... where is the darn plane?!!!

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