Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Today, at 00:07 UTC (19:07- 7:07 pm Winnipeg Time) the change of seasons has occurred, and it is now officially spring (yah, cheer, rah).
Molly spent the better part of today driving around and listening to the founts of all wisdom on the radio try their best to give the right time, almost always failing. The actual time is easily looked up, and if readers from other localities are interested in when it occurred in their time zone they can use the Time and Date.com site under our 'Other Interesting Sites' section to calculate the time difference between UTC and their time zone.
The equinoxes, from the latin equus(equal) and nox (night), are the two times each year when the sun spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon. In actual fact the day at this time is longer than the night because the sun is not a "point" source of light, and when the centre of the solar disc is below the horizon the upper edge is still visible. Also refraction means that the sun's rays reach the ground even when the whole disc is below the horizon. At the equator this means that the day is about 14 minutes longer than the night at the equinox, and as you go towards the poles the difference becomes greater and greater.
The Spring Equinox has several alternative names ie the March Equinox, the Vernal Equinox, the First Point of Aries (an obsolete astrological term because precession has led to a total disjuncture between astrology and the actual position of the constellations), the Pisces Equinox (present position of the equinox) and the Northward Equinox. It should be noted that the term "equinox" refers to a moment in time, not a day. The rate of change of daylight versus nighttime is greatest at the time of the equinoxes. At the equator the rate of change is zero while at the poles the equinoxes mark the change from 24 hours of night or day to its opposite. The equinoxes fall about six hours later every years but are "reset" by the leap year inserted in the Gregorian calender. This itself varies as the Gregorian calender is not 100% accurate. Small changes also occur due to the gravitational influence of other bodies in the solar system, particularly the Moon. Because of the shift of the time of the equinoxes (and solstices) the present most common day for the Vernal Equinox is March 20th (as it is this year). Older people such as Molly have the date March 21st stuck in their minds because the equinox did indeed come earlier back in the days when Molly was a wee kitten.
The Spring Equinox has been associate with a great number of Spring festivals in many cultures and many ancient cultures devoted considerable effort in building "observatories" to calculate the exact time. In ancient German religion the vernal equinox was the time when Ostara, the goddess of fertility and the Moon mated with the solar god to produce a child due to be born 9 months later on "Yule". In ancient Greece this equinox marked the return of Persephone from the Underworld. The Mayans in Central America celebrate a spring festival that dates back a thousand years to the ancient "return of the Sun Serpent". the ancient cultures of the Middle East (Babylonian, Sumerian, Elamite and Persian) considered this day as their "New Years' Day", and this is still preserved in the Iranian and Bahai calenders. This marking of New Years at this time is common to many other countries in Central Asia such as Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, etc. and is a holiday in many countries where it is not accepted as the date of the New Year.
In Saxon mythology, from which many modern day Wiccan myths are derived, the goddess Eostre (from whom derives the word "estrogen") had her feast day on the full Moon following the vernal equinox. The present Christian calculation of "Easter" (also derived from her name) as the first Sunday after the full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox was derived from the appropriation of this festival. One interesting legend about Eostre is that she once found a dying bird on the ground one winter and in order to save it she transformed it into a rabbit. But the transformation wasn't complete, and the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs which it would decorate and leave as gifts for Eostre. Now you know from whence comes the Easter Bunny.....
Christianity also borrowed from the ancient pagan religions to place the Feast of the Annunciation on the date of March 25th by the old Julian calender. This led to the further appropriation of Yule, December 25th, some 9 months later in imitation of the old Teutonic calenders, as the time of the birth of Jesus.
Elsewhere, Japan has the day of the Spring Equinox as a national holiday. In many Arab countries this equinox is celebrated as Mothers' Day. Earth Day was originally celebrated on March 21st, but more recently it has been moved to April 22nd. A few other pieces of trivia follow.
In some European countries legend has it that the equinox is the only time when one can successfully balance an egg on its end. during the equinox geostationary communication satellites may temporarily "go down" as the radiation of the Sun directly behind them disrupts their signals. The actual day when daytime and nighttime are closest to equal is referred to as the "equilux" as opposed to the equinox. This is usually three or four days "towards the winter" ie it fell three days earlier this year as opposed to the equinox.
For those who enjoy total trivia there is a table of times for the spring equinox from 1452 to 2547 at http://ns1763.ca/equinox/eqindex.html .

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