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Spring Equinox

September 22-23 (Southern Hemisphere)

The Spring (Vernal) Equinox is one of two days in the calendar year when day and night hours are almost equal to one another; it is also the first day of Spring in the Gregorian calendar.

The Origin of Equinox Celebrations

The annual seasons happen because of two planetary occurrences:

1) a 23.5 tilt of the earth's axis, which makes the earth rotate like a gyroscope, so it points continuously in a fixed direction-toward the area of space near the North Star

2) the earth continuously revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit-once every 365.25 of our solar days.

As a result, for half of the year the Southern Hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than the Northern Hemisphere, and for the other half of the year the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears highest in the sky during summer and lowest in the sky during winter.

The Vernal Equinox is almost exactly halfway between the winter and summer solstices, and in the sky the sun appears about midway between its highest and lowest points. It is one of the two times during the year when day and night are almost exactly 12 hours long, and very close to being equal to one another. The other day is the Autumnal Equinox, which usually falls on or near the first day of Autumn (September 22-23 NH / March 20-21 SH) in the Gregorian calendar.

The First Day of Spring has been a time of celebration throughout recorded Western history. Most ancient Mediterranean Pagan religions had some sort of festival at or around the time of the Vernal Equinox. The celebrations were a way to rejoice in the rebirth of nature and to ritually act out this seasonal change, from the symbolic death of the earth in winter to its resurrection through the budding and blooming that came after the equinox. Many of these religions had stories of a man-god, born of a virgin, who was killed and reborn at this time each year, and this day was often connected to the worship of many fertility goddesses with such names as Ostara, Astarte, Eostre, Ishtar, and Ostra. The name for the modern Christian Easter holiday originated from these spring celebrations.

In every culture the Vernal Equinox signals the return of weather that favors humanity's ability to grow agricultural crops, and for this reason we have associated it with the "rebirth" of our ability to perpetuate ourselves. It is understandable why we have chosen to celebrate such a momentous occasion, and why it has come to represent "rebirth" in a variety of contexts. For freethinkers the Vernal Equinox is a great time to celebrate the rebirth of Western art, philosophy, and culture with secular themes after centuries of religious domination. It is also a perfect day to celebrate the accomplishments of intellect, reason, and logic, and a time to renew connections to our intellectual past as well as renew promises to continue striving to enlighten and improve the human condition.

Another freethought holiday that can be celebrated around this time and as an alternative to Easter is the Excitement of Life Week.

Activity Suggestions

The Great Group Dinner

Hey, if groups can celebrate the Summer Solstice, then they can sure celebrate the Spring Equinox! Since this time of year is usually much cooler than the solstice, try holding a potluck dinner instead of a picnic. Food can be inspired by harvest crops and include vegetables and grains, fruits and berries. Breads, cheeses, crackers, casseroles, rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, muffins, cookies, pies and cakes are great dishes to bring to such celebrations, or ethnic foods such as Chinese, Indian, Thai and Italian are great ties into the Equinox/harvest theme. Refreshments such as sparkling fruit drinks, water and wine are best to celebrate the turning of the seasons.


Celebrate The Renaissance

Since the Renaissance was the time when secular themes were reintroduced or "reborn" into Western art, literature, and study, why not use this day to celebrate the accomplishments of this period in history? View the works of master artists such as da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Rafael, read about the lives and accomplishments of scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Vesalius, and read the words of writers such as DA Vinci, Chaucer, Gaspara Stampa, Rabelais, Shakespeare and Boccacio. All are great ways to see and hear the changes these people brought to Western culture. Share them with other freethinkers during Equinox celebrations.


Celebrate The Enlightenment

Yet another time freethinkers can celebrate, when classical ideas and ideals were "reborn" into Western culture. Seek out the works of Addison and Steele, Alexander Pope, Montaigne, Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Swift, the philosophy of Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke and Hume, the political ideals of the American and French Revolutions, and the science of Newton, Leeuwenhoek, Halley and Linnaeus. Along this line, use prisms to look at light, perform simple gravity experiments, use simple microscopes to look at cells and telescopes to view the planets and moons, and observe the similarities and differences between birds, dogs, butterflies and other animals. Enjoy the science and the ideas behind them with other freethinkers during Equinox celebrations.


Dispelling Astronomy Myths