First Day of Spring 2021: The Spring Equinox

Celebrate the Vernal Equinox and the Start of Spring!

January 15, 2021
Welcome Spring Equinox

In 2021, the spring equinox occurs on Saturday, March 20. This event marks the astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Before you try to balance that egg, read this!

The March Equinox

In the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox (aka spring equinox or vernal equinox) occurs when the Sun crosses the equator line, heading north in the sky. This event marks the start of spring in the northern half of the globe. After this date, the Northern Hemisphere begins to be tilted more toward the Sun, resulting in increasing daylight hours and warming temperatures. (In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite: the March equinox marks the start of autumn, as the Southern Hemisphere begins to be tilted away from the Sun.)

When Is the First Day of Spring?

In 2021, the March equinox happens on Saturday, March 20, at 5:37 A.M. EDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, this date marks the start of the spring season.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the March equinox marks the start of autumn, while the September equinox marks the start of spring.

Spring Equinox Dates and Times

Year Spring Equinox (Northern Hemisphere)
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
2024 Tuesday, March 19, at 11:06 P.M. EDT

What Does “Equinox” Mean, Exactly?

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 diagram
On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres receive the Sun’s rays about equally. 

What Happens on the March Equinox?

On the March equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator going 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 the Sun 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 Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun. Although in most locations (the North Pole and Equator being exceptions) the amount of daylight had been increasing each day after the winter solstice, after the spring equinox, many places will experience more daylight than darkness in each 24-hour day. The amount of daylight each day will continue to increase until the summer solstice in June, in which the longest period of daylight occurs.

Read more about the reason for the seasons.

Crocus field in 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! We won’t see a March 21 equinox 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 in field
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 worms and grubs reappearing? (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.

equinox-nature-3106216_1920_full_width.jpg

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!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Records haven't been kept

Records haven't been kept long enough to be able to give an accurate judgement as to far as climate change and atmospheric composition go. The best records of these changes we have are at archaeological digs that aren't given priority because they aren't a new flashy kind of science. In order to better understand the future possibilities we must understand the past thoroughly.

I used to feel similarly, but

I used to feel similarly, but time and knowledge changed my mind.
The fact is, so-called "global climate change" is nothing more than a political ploy to eliminate individual freedom via statism.
The best data shows the earth's temps have flatlined for the last 15 years

After this winter, with temps

After this winter, with temps averaging 30° below normal since the weekend before thanksgiving, (in Wisconsin) I too made the same comment about global warming. A friend mentioned that the term isn't used much anymore, that our deleterious impact on climate is causing more weather extremes, including tornadoes, draughts, and hurricanes. These extremes are hard to ignore!

It's warming up so more water

It's warming up so more water evaporates into sky which eventually has to come down.In the winter it creates more snow and makes it feel colder.just my opinion

We stood a broom up @8:00PST

We stood a broom up @8:00PST last night, and it is still standing thru the night -- 11hrs later. Kinda freaky!

Ok this broom thing is

Ok this broom thing is hilarious (it would make a great snl skit). So what does this have to do with the earth's axis? And since you tried this bewildering magic trick before the equinox began, doesn't it mean it has nothing to do with the equinox? Trying to understand... While i chuckle over this, i honestly am tempted to try this! Lol.

But how do we know the exact

But how do we know the exact time of 11:57 ct?

.The vernal equinox is the

.The vernal equinox is the begining of spring it is celebrated March 20th in the northern hemisphere but September 22 in the southern hemisphere

Spring Equinox is Persian /

Spring Equinox is Persian / Iranian news year.
It marks the official new year celebrations in Iran.
All of Iranian peoples (Kurds, Georgians, Armenians, Croats, Persians etc.)celebrate this day.
This celebration has at least been celebrated for more than 4500 years. Its is a Pre-Islamic tradition of Iranian nations an Indo-European (Aryan) tradition relating to Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.. (pre-islamic religion of Iran before the savage invasion of Arabs and forcing the Iranians to accept islam by the sword...)
This tradition is everything that's is the Opposite of Islam and Arab culture.. Thus Iranian people have celebrated it as a mark of Iranian Ethnic, cultural identity. The Spring Equinox or Newruz celebration as the Persians call it meaning the New Day, goes on for two weeks and on the thirteenth day all families go out to picnic (this is April fool’s day..)
They grow wheat as mark of regrowth and colour eggs etc. This tradition also belongs to Nordic European people as well (Celtic, Saxon..), but the Persian/ Iranian nation is the only nation which has saved and kept this old
Indo-European tradition.

A beautiful tradition. I have

A beautiful tradition. I have met several people from Iran and all are very proud of their Persian heritage. I hope to someday visit your country.
Happy spring/new year.

Happy spring to you..

Happy spring to you..

When you say Croats do tou

When you say Croats do tou refer to people of Croatia? These folks are not Iranian, as I understand it. Please clarify.

Thank you Paymaan, for your

Thank you Paymaan, for your elucidating post! I had forgotten the Persian new year, and I should know better; I had some lovely friends and coworkers, a couple of whom were Zoroastrian, and were kind enough to school me in the traditions you mentioned. (Incredibly intelligent computer geeks, I liked working with them.:) I didn't know that colouring eggs was part of the traditions though, that is great to know. Truly part of the great cradle of civilization. My boss said it had traditionally been not Patriarchy, but more of a Matrilineal and Goddess based religion originally. Do you know if that is true? Many thanks, and happy Newruz!

I have not tried the egg

I have not tried the egg yet,but I do know that a broom will stand up straight by itself. Try It!

Geeze....don't you women have

Geeze....don't you women have anything better to do but take each other down ? Obviously rich and .......

HOW does a broom stand up by

HOW does a broom stand up by itself?????

Brooms WILL stand by itself.

Brooms WILL stand by itself. A couple years ago I was working in a grocery store the night of the equinox. I walked down the aisle, took 6 brooms down and stood them up through the middle of the aisle. I have a picture here someplace. It worked for 2 more nights, then on the 3rd night they wouldn't stand anymore. you should have seen the look on the guy's face that was running the floor buffer when he rounded the corner.

Funny how everyone is so up

Funny how everyone is so up in arms over such a point. My daughter and family live in New Zealand and the first day of winter is officially December 1st. I do understand the explanation of the equinox and solstice are referring to the Northern Hemisphere, however, as we all can see, the rites of the passage of each season coincides on a calendar and in MOST of our minds as on or around the 21st of March, June, September and December. NZ was founded as NZ rather than the Maori Aotearoa with the settlers and explorers that were Dutch & British and many of their current customs coincide with the UK. Strange to me to see this difference.

Of course, that is to say

Of course, that is to say December 1st is their first day of SUMMER, when we are going into winter, to clarify.

Well, the difference you cite

Well, the difference you cite is the difference between Astronomical reckoning and Meteorological reckoning.

Astronomical reckoning is based on the tilt of the earth relative to the sun: Spring and Autumn start as the earth's tilt has the sun striking directly onto the Equator, Winter and Summer start as the earth's tilt has the sun striking directly onto the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. (And, yes, all seasons are reversed in Southern Hemisphere vs. Northern Hemisphere.)

Meteorological reckoning is based on the (full) months when temperatures *normally* most reflect the season. Thus (in Northern Hemisphere) "Meteorological Summer" is June/July/August, "Meteorological Winter" is Dec/Jan/Feb, and spring and fall filling appropriately.

So, regionally, some cultures may be more inclined to refer/default to Astronomical reckoning and other regions/cultures refer/default to Meteorological reckoning.

Strictly, most of the things

Strictly, most of the things we associate with Spring are neither astronomical nor meteorological, but biological - more specifically botanical (such as flowers appearing) and zoological (such as birds nesting). Of course, these are influenced by the weather but they are not determined by it in any short time period. When the weather doesn't correspond to our ordinary understand of a season we say the season is early or late or didn't happen at all that year. That is how humans, as against robots, think about the world around them.

Thank you! A great, complete

Thank you! A great, complete and intelligent response! I appreciate any opportunity to learn and you have taught me something new today. A. Friend, indeed.

How sad that a beautiful

How sad that a beautiful thought like the beginning of Spring causes all these ridiculous arguments. The question the article posed was a discussion of the changing patterns we are noticing this time of year. I can appreciate the positives and negatives that come with each distinct season being from northern Canada.
I have been hearing a new bird song...tweee/tweee...tweee/tweee.... that I haven't heard all winter, just started to hear it this week and I thought it was quite beautiful and uplifting.

Thanks for your comment, I

Thanks for your comment, I too am loving the birds returning here in Montana, it has been such a long winter it was a relief to see a Robin running in my yard,,,,have a great spring!

Although it is easy to carry

Although it is easy to carry phases from one generation to many others...."THE SUN DOES NOT RISE, NOR DOES IT SET". Get over it.

Sunrise and sunset are

Sunrise and sunset are phenomenological, not astronomical, events. We see these events as surely as we see eclipses and more than we *see* Moon landings. You can even look up the times when they happen in almanacs.The obsession with astronomical definitions of common human experiences is as pagan as astrology.

I'm not sure how you can

I'm not sure how you can suggest the apparent rising and setting of the sun is NOT an astronomical event. All motions of the sky are 100% astronomical. Just because humans experience it does not mean that science doesn't drive it. In fact, the entire universe, and all that occurs in it is scientific phenomena. And of course you can look up the times the sun sets and rises in an almanac.....they have been mathematically calculated by............. uh, lets see.....who are they again? Oh yeah, ASTRONOMERS! I'm not sure what the ramblings about eclipses and moon landings had to do with any of this, but yes I agree we do see them. There is no obsession with astronomical definitions, and suggesting it is pagan really explains all of this. Its just another example of individuals being unable to grasp the explanations of the world around them, while still holding onto their faith. They do not need to be separated, in fact for many of us one only strengthens the other. The bottom line is that everything you see in the sky, and everything associated with seasons can be explained by science. Do not limit your creator to magic. My creator created everything, including science. He/she gave me a logical, problem solving mind, yet has not asked that I forego its use. My creator is most likely the first, and greatest scientist ever! People need to get over being hung up on language, and just enjoy the "inconceivable nature, of nature." I stole that quote from Richard Feynman.

In your original post you

In your original post you said, quote: "THE SUN DOES NOT RISE, NOR DOES IT SET." In you latest you speak of the "apparent" rising and setting of the sun. Apparent means what appears (to us), and that is what is meant by phenomenological. You then talk about "scientific phenomena". Phenomena are by definition phenomenological. In fact, there are no "scientific phenomena". Phenomena are just that - what we perceive. Scientist try to explain and predict phenomena (and much that does not appear besides), and they often do so successfully. But that does not make the phenomena themselves "scientific", any more than it makes the Creator a scientist. Science (like Math) is a human creation. Feynman never made or supported these kinds of conceptual errors.
I do not believe in magic, but some scientists appear to do so.

Isn't that the definition of

Isn't that the definition of astronomical - to do with celestial objects such as the sun, moon and stars?

It's all relative.

It's all relative.

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