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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Eggs upright! - all across

Eggs upright! - all across America! I put all 12 up, 3 of them standing on my cutting board, the others on the electric burner os my stove inspired by the almanac pic. 2 friends sent pics of theirs on flat shiny surfaces, another friend on her stove, my mom's in the corner of the tile, another on the tile floor. I also held it straight up & down in my hand. I could really feel it's energy pulling it into perfect balance. Don't give up! I couldn't quit once I got started. Where do I post all the pictures?

To address the misconception,

To address the misconception, you can stand an egg on its head any time of the year. The seasons have absolutely nothing to do with it at all. It just depends on how flat your surface is how nicely shaped the egg is.

Our broom stands up in our

Our broom stands up in our broom closet until someone pulls it out and uses it. On the other hand, what came first, the spring equinox or the egg?

i stood an egg up and it

i stood an egg up and it stayed for a lil while then fell over. the broom works great tho. the eggs should balance as so when the equinox comes closer as the force would be stronger. so if you havent had any luck just be a lil patient.

I have never in my life been

I have never in my life been able to balance anything and as the above post states... The broom and the egg are still standing beside me as I st here at the bar. I am in the Panhandle of Florida and its not March 20th however the objects still stand. I will continue to try this and see what happens! FIRM BELIEVER!!!

That is awesome! my son is

That is awesome! my son is trying to get our broom to stand on end now, lol. We are testing it here in s.e. oklahoma. Will let you know the outcome later today.

My 12 yr old daughter and I

My 12 yr old daughter and I tried the broom and egg "trick" earlier tonight after all the buzz posted on FB. Well...it worked!! And they are BOTH still standing in my litchen as I type! I've tried this before today and it never worked. I'm a believer!! :-)

I live on hour north of KC

I live on hour north of KC Missouri. My fiance saw all the posts about the broom and egg so he tried it...and our broom and egg have been standing on end for the past hour...also my broom is a slanted one to sweep out corners..so there is no way it could ever do this on it's own..it's top heavy...creepy...I have friends in NY state that tried it but no luck..too bad its really neat to see. :)

My friend asked me what all

My friend asked me what all the pictures in Facebook were about standing brooms, and I said I don't know. We tried the broom outside, and it worked. We tried the eggs inside and the broom inside and it worked. Anyone feeling the magic?

My friends broom is standing

My friends broom is standing in her bathroom. And has been for hours but my broom wont and niether did the eggs that I tried to stand on end. Hmm wierd

does not need to be a new

does not need to be a new perfect broom. I've done it with my decade old beaten up broom.

please explain to me how to

please explain to me how to get the broom to balance on its own because im going to the store just to buy a brand new broom to try this because it seems very interesting.

I stood 2 brooms up today,

I stood 2 brooms up today, Neither were new, both were angled brooms, one stood for almost 3 hours and I had to leave and couldn't leave it standing at work, the other stood until the baby knocked it down. And could easily be stood back up. IDK Y but it works.

I don't understand how the

I don't understand how the tilt of the earth can make an egg stand vertically. Perhaps I'm missing something...I understand that the egg in the photo is standing because of the crease of whatever it's on, but I still think that this may actually be possible (despite the fact that I haven't tried it yet. I just don't fully understand HOW. But maybe we don't need to understand...

Well, it's really just

Well, it's really just folklore. The premise is that an egg will balance on the vernal and autumnal equinox because the Sun is crossing the equator and that having the center of the Earth aligned with the gravitational pull of the Sun makes it easier to balance any object. It may be that you can balance eggs any day of the year. You may want to try it and pick a day!

I figured it might have

I figured it might have something to do with the equator, but I was never really sure. I guess I'll just have to try it some time.

I never could understand that

I never could understand that folklore myself. Gravity is generated by the spin of the earth and not the pull of the sun. If the Sun's pull influenced the ability of the egg to stand up, then it would only hold at the equator where it is perpendicular. In other parts of the world as you move up the curvature, the sun's pull would move from perpendicular.

Actually, gravity is

Actually, gravity is generated from the center of any reasonably large body (Sun, Earth, moon, etc.) When the earth spins, it causes centripedal force which causes winds, among other things

Yes! And the interaction of

Yes! And the interaction of the Sun and Moon causes tides. Thus a perpendicular egg would be due to tidal forces, among others.

As I learned it back in 1968

As I learned it back in 1968 in Physics 101: Gravity is a mutual attraction generated by both the earths mass and the corresponding mass of the object. Centripetal force is generated by the spin of the earth as it acts upon the mass of the object.
BTW gravity's attraction between 2 objects across space such as the sun and the earth (and the egg as well) also is a contributing factor when attempting to account for all forces acting upon the egg.
Just sayin - - -

The sun and moon both affect

The sun and moon both affect the gravity on earth. That is what influences the tidal cycles of spring to neap and back, as the sun and moon position themselves in alignment or on opposite sides of the earth. Theoretically then, the egg / broom / whatever story should be possible more often then only at the spring equinox (which happens twice annually).

So u r saying by that u

So u r saying by that u should be able to even balance 3 golf balls on top of each other, correct. About 12that of us tried that yesterday, 03/12/2012 and none were successful, so how is it that u say u can balance things easier right now? And in response to those asking about early spring...we have had an even milder winter than usual here in Knoxville this year. 70 degree weather in February is extremely nice!!!

I have 2 brooms that have

I have 2 brooms that have been standing on their own in our kitchen since last night!

Actually, one of the tests of

Actually, one of the tests of a good quality hand made broom is that it will stand up (that is - stay standing) on its own. Learned this from a fellow at a pioneer village type tourist spot.

This standing of the broom or

This standing of the broom or the egg... it is NOTHING. Any day of the year, my wife can make her broom for indefinite periods of time, to stand on its own, or flip, or even HOVER!; AND it uses no gasoline, but still takes her anywhere she wants to go!!!

To loveisinvein: Whats does

To loveisinvein:
Whats does a broom standing on end on March 01 have to do with vernal equinox lore? The vernal equinox is March 20 according to the farmers' almanac , although the actual "equal" night/ day is March 16-17. My grandpa always said to plant seedlings outdoors on st. patricks day.

In addition to the egg, you

In addition to the egg, you can also stand a broom up by itself... I must admit that it is rather freaky, but also awesome at the same time! Mine has been free standing for the past hour.

I tried both egg and broom to

I tried both egg and broom to zero sucess. Maybe a new broom would but as for the egg.........Just ain't happenin...........

You need a new broom. Only

You need a new broom. Only new brooms sweep clean.

If you have a broom that will

If you have a broom that will stand then it will stand any day of the year. The bristles disperse the weight of the broom evenly (if done correctly) and it allows the broom to balance. The suns position in the sky has no bearing on the broom. If it did this would only work on the equator at high noon.

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