First Day of Spring 2020: The Spring Equinox

Celebrate an Early Vernal Equinox and the Start of Spring!

March 19, 2020
Welcome Spring Equinox

In 2020, the spring equinox (also called the March equinox or vernal equinox) occurs on Thursday, March 19, which is earlier than it’s been in over a century! This event marks the astronomical first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Before you try to balance that egg, read this!

The Earliest Spring in More Than 100 Years

If you’re as calendar-obsessed as we are, you may have noticed something odd about this year’s spring equinox date. That’s right—it’s earlier than usual! But that’s a bit of an understatement.

For much of the last century, the spring equinox has occurred on March 20 or 21. This year, however, the equinox happens on the 19th in all U.S. time zones, making it the earliest spring we’ll have seen in our lives (so far). The last time spring arrived this early was in 1896—a whopping 124 years ago! 

Naturally, this leads to some important questions, like: Why is the equinox so early this year? Will the date keep shifting earlier and earlier? Will the equinox ever be on March 21 again? 

Thankfully, Almanac astronomer Bob Berman has the answers to all of our pressing equinox queries. Read all about the quirks of the equinox date in his latest article!

When Is the First Day of Spring?

In the Northern Hemisphere, spring begins with the March equinox, which may occur on March 19, 20, or 21. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the March equinox marks the start of autumn, while the September equinox marks the start of spring.)

Year Spring Equinox (Northern Hemisphere)
2020 Thursday, March 19, at 11:50 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 “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 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 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!

Reader Comments

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My friend *Anna* stands

My friend *Anna* stands brooms up all the time and leaves them at the store in the middle of the aisle that way. The looks on peoples faces is awesome. So funny..

Witches can do

Witches can do that,pronouncing spells of malevolence and dreadfull scary augurs....your friend must be an Anna Konda,a terrible serpent which encarneted Satan when tempting Eve in the garden of Eden....

All your broom are belong to

All your broom are belong to us!

Somebody set us up the egg!

Somebody set us up the egg!

THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF

THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF SPRING: "Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG ), also called (Saint) Brighid’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa’l Breeshey), is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 31 January–1 February, or halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox." THINK YOU MIGHT BE WILLING TO SET YOUR WEBSITE ARIGHT?

Hmmm, you contradict

Hmmm, you contradict yourself. You state that the beginning of spring is the Gaelic festival, but then state it's halfway between the winter solstice and the SPRING solstice. The solstice marks the actual start of spring not a festival.

Actually, no, I believe they

Actually, no, I believe they said it was halfway between the equinox and the solstice, not between the solstices. For people who follow the Celtic religions, Imbolc is one of 4 original yearly holidays, the others being Beltaine (May 1) Lughnasad (a sun/harvest festival) Aug 1 and Samhain (Halloween), Oct 31/Nov 1. This is considered by many to be Celtic New Year, instead of January 1. Notice there is one festival every 3 months, or quarterly. (Some of the other adopted Pagan holidays such as Yule, Ostara (Easter) and so on...were of Germanic/Nordic origin, however, some people celebrate them as well, but they weren't originally followed by the Celtic peoples. Sign me- student of comparative religions & mythologies Peace

The Celtic New Year is

The Celtic New Year is actually Samhain, better known now as Hallowe'en or the evening before All Hallows. Samhain marks the death of Summer and the birth of Winter, as the Celts divided their annual cycle into halves as well as quarters and cross-quarters, the two halves being Summer and Winter.

As for Imbolc, it marks the first stirrings of Spring, but remains a seasonal Winter festival (the last one prior to the Spring Equinox). Ostara or the Vernal/Spring Equinox is the first Spring festival, and May Day or Beltane is the first day of the Summer season, with the Summer Solstice being the middle or high point of the Summertime, when the Suns' energy reaches its' zenith and begins waning, with the days growing shorter and the trek moving back into Autumn, toward Winter.

To clarify this, one could view Imbolc as either a Winter or Spring festival, or both. It takes place when the Winter is still on us, but it marks the first stages of Spring, based upon the agrarian events taking place around that time, such as the lambing season, preparing for the Spring ploughing, etc.

And before I get chastised again, these are, indeed, the astronomical designations of the seasons, marked by the position of the Earth in its' annual cyclical orbit in relation to the Sun... and yes, it is scientific. The local weather is another matter entirely, and is not necessarily effected by the astronomical progression of Earth and Sun.

Nicely elaborated upon!

Nicely elaborated upon! Thankyou. Well said. As someone who's lived in both SoCalifornia (where there are practically no visible signs of season change) and moving to Colorado, where the latest snow of the year I recall was a blizzard on Memorial Day, I definitely prefer the wild variations on the latter. But that's just because I like extreme weather.

So do I, though here in

So do I, though here in Kentucky the Summer can be brutally hot... that part I'm not too fond of at all, but I do like the change of seasons and watching the garden as the changes effect it year to year. We got a decent Winter here for once in a long time (though it was late), so I'm hoping the soil will do better than it has in a while. Hope you have a great Spring and a wonderful year!

It's been anything but a mild

It's been anything but a mild winter here in central New England. January was typically very cold, and since the second week of February, we've had about 60 inches of snow. (with maybe 6-12 more inches tomorrow night). But as I write this, I calculate there's about sixty hours left of winter. And I've always said it doesn't matter half as much what it's doing outside as what the calendar says. And the calendar says it's Spring on Wednesday. Ah, Spring. Yeah, baby!

I'm living in Western KY next

I'm living in Western KY next to the Ohio River. My jonquils have been blooming for two weeks. The last two winters here have been mild and we are now designated zone 7 by the "experts" who determine these things. We were zone 6b. Global warming? Another debatable issue. I am 74 and I know the weather patterns are greatly different than they were in my youth so something IS happening on this earth.

We're in north central

We're in north central Kentucky (not far from Louisville), and I can attest to the fact that this is the first Winter that's been even remotely normal for at least two decades, based on the last fifty years or so. It's been a very welcome thing, considering that the soil quality has been steadily deteriorating, and the insect population increasing to a very noticable extent. My hope is that (a) having actually HAD Winter this year (though it started late), it will help improve the soil and kill off some of the insects and (b) that the global warming we've all witnessed is, indeed, a cyclical phenomenon rather than one caused by human recklessness.

I don't doubt that a lot of our practises are not good for the planet, especially the massive deforestation we're responsible for. But from what I've read, there have been times in history where the carbon levels have been much higher than they are now, and things went back to a colder trend. The most important thing is balance. It seems many want to take the position that warm is good and cold is bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each is essential in its' season, which is why the richest portion of the farm belt lies in areas which are balanced by Summer and Winter.

Crazy so many places are mild

Crazy so many places are mild and getting ready for spring I live just about an hr east of Pittsburgh and we are below average lows. We barely make it past 35 or so. Last weekend we had 2 days that were almost 50 but then right back to teens and low 20s in the am. So count your blessings guys

Here in WV two things really

Here in WV two things really speak spring to me, the peeping of the frogs on the pond and the return of the red-winged blackbird. I dearly love them both.

Hey WV, wonderful!

Hey WV, wonderful!

Azaleas are in bloom in deep

Azaleas are in bloom in deep South Georgia and the Bluebirds are more active. It's Springtime !

Greetings to all my American

Greetings to all my American cousins, from the social democratic paradise that exists on your Far North (i.e. Canada). Toronto, Ontario also had a mild winter with perhaps 1/10th the snow of New York City. I prefer the brisk, sunny days of March to the high heat and humidity of July. I beg the gods of Climate Change to keep our summer on the cool side. Warm regards (but not too warm).

Warm regards, Cousins and

Warm regards, Cousins and Cousines, our French relatives are still there! I marvel that so many folks like living so far north, yet how bizarre our winter has been when we usually get over 300 days of sunshine. In some places we were colder this year, fifteen below in Denver, more with windchill. Yesterday, 70 and the crocus finally bloom a little, many of our migrating birds have disappeared, so they must be winging their way back to you; it must be warmer right around the corner.

The good old Earth, each year

The good old Earth, each year it renews its promise to bring its mildness and sweetness and life to us. The dear Earth.

North TX has experienced a

North TX has experienced a 'normal' winter, seasonal snow, sleet and rain but for me, has been more uncomfortable than usual (debates are whether more or less humidity affects one's tolerence to cold.) We've had some warm days tho' with robins arriving, black birds migrating, and several pairs of cardinals returning and nesting, signaling spring is closer for our part of the state. Experts recommending holding off applying fertilizer since ground hasn't warmed up for growing because of fewer sunny winter days.

In my neck of the woods, you

In my neck of the woods, you know that Spring is here when you see your first chipmunk. Last year it was March 17. Hope it's sooner than that this year!

Around here, in North Texas

Around here, in North Texas near the panhandle, I know it's nearly spring when my grape hyacinths show green leaves and start to send up shoots. We've got green but no shoots just yet. Might get another cold snap or two this year. Or so say the hyacinths, lol.

Okie Girl I live southeast of

Okie Girl I live southeast of you in Arkansas and we are still having to bring in the brass monkey at night.

The moon controls the oceans,

The moon controls the oceans, who is controlling the broom . Better call ghost busters hehehe

You can balance a raw egg on

You can balance a raw egg on its wide end any day of the year, not just the equinox.

The 16th of March has a day

The 16th of March has a day length of 11:59 hours. This is about as close as you can get to equal day/night length and should rightly be called the vernal equinox. I am wondering if the 20th is just a traditional date for simplicity's sake and is really not the scientific equinox!

I noticed this also. Were

I noticed this also. Were there any replies?

I chuckled at the photo of

I chuckled at the photo of the American robin in signs of spring. Most American robins do not migrate very far; they simply shift locally due to a change in their feeding habits (from worms in your yards to the berries on trees). If you want to find them in the dead of winter you have only to go so far as the deep woods nearby.

For birds, a better sign of impending spring in most locations is to visit your local marsh and see if there are Red-winged Blackbirds. They're truly long-distance migratory birds that are easily identifiable by sight and song.

To, the robin is still a

To, the robin is still a great symbol of spring. Though some varieties will spend the whole winter in their breeding range, many do not. And those that stay tend to roost up in trees and not spend much time in the yard. So, when you see them tugging at worms in your yard, THAT is a symbol of spring.

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