The spring and autumnal equinoxes mark moments when the sun shines right on the equator, and day and night are (almost) equal. When is the spring equinox in 2017? For those in the northern hemisphere, the special day is almost here: On March 20, the sun will pass the celestial equator from south to north, signaling the first day of the new season.
"Equinox" quite literally means "equal night," although the length of day and night aren't ever actually equal. During the vernal equinox, the northern hemisphere begins to adjust its tilt more toward our big, bright star, giving us longer, brighter days. But the magic happens at the exact moment of the equinox, when the earth arrives at a place where neither the north or south pole are tilted toward the sun — which is what gives us nearly equal daylight and nighttime.
In the southern hemisphere, meanwhile, they experience the opposing autumnal equinox at this time of year. The equinoxes are indeed a seasonal celestial happening; but their meaning and significance have carried even more weight and complexity through the years. It's symbolic of a period of rebirth, when life and growth finally begin again after a dark and dreary winter, and animals come out of hibernation. Indeed, it's often celebrated as a time of energy, fertility, regeneration, and birth.
For many groups of people, the spring equinox marks the resurrection of their deity — Christianity and Jesus, Egyptians and Osiris, Greeks and Dionysus, just to name a few. In this pivotal moment, darkness and light confront each other.
On the day of the equinox (and for several days before and after it), the length of daytime is roughly 12 hours — although in some locations, it can be up to 12 hours and six minutes. The equinoxes are the only days we can experience approximately equal day and night. (It's a very special day for us, but maybe not for people who live around the equator, who experience this phenomenon every single day!)
For thousands of years, people have had unique ways of celebrating the spring equinox. The ancient Chinese believed you could balance an egg on its end, for example. In Druidry, the shamrock is symbolic of the equinox and the regenerative powers of nature. If you visit Stonehenge, you'll witness the sun rising very precisely between two stones.
However you choose to celebrate, get ready for warmer weather and brighter days, because they're just around the corner.