How March Equinox Differs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres
Have you ever wondered how folks celebrate the March equinox in the Southern hemisphere versus in the Northern hemisphere? Read on to find out!
What Exactly Is An Equinox?
The two equinoxes—Vernal and Autumnal—come around the same time each year in March and September. The equinoxes are a result of Earth’s tilt on its axis and continuous orbit around the sun. You can visualize an equinox happening on the imaginary dome of the sky.
Vernal means spring. Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs this year on March 19th. Meanwhile, the Autumnal (Fall) Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere will be on this same date. It’s the opposite for the Equinox on September 22, 2020—this day marks the beginning of Spring in South America (south of the Equator) and the start of fall in all countries positioned north of the Equator.
On the equinoxes, the Sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are almost equal. The word “equinox” comes from the Latin aequinoctium, which is derived from combining aequus (equal) and nox (night). Way back before early scientists noted this equality of día y noche, primitive equatorial cultures observed and celebrated the day when the Sun rises due east and sets due west. This, indeed, occurs on the equinox.
Seasonal Differences In The Northern And Southern Hemispheres
Currently, in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising earlier and setting later, and plants are beginning to sprout after the long, cold winter months. Conversely, it’s the opposite season south of the equator, with shortening days, chilly winds, and falling leaves.
If you pay attention to the arc of the sun across the sky each day, you’ll notice that it’s shifting gradually toward the north. Responding to the change in daylight, butterflies and birds are migrating back northward, too.
Longer days bring warmer weather. Trees bud, flowers bloom, and plants commence a new cycle of growth. Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter and nights longer. Fall has arrived, and that can only mean that winter is coming.
How Spring Equinox is Celebrated Around the World
Springtime is synonymous with bliss in many parts of the world. For that reason, many festivals take place around this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.
Holi, a Hindu festival in north India, is a day literally full of color in which the participants throw dust of every possible shade of the rainbow at each other. The Swiss welcome spring at the beginning of April with a spring festival in the city of Zurich which includes a parade of children in traditional dress and the burning of a snow doll at six o’clock in the evening.
At Teotihuacán, an ancient Aztec city turned archaeological zone near Mexico City, thousands of people dressed in white gather around the enormous Pyramid of the Sun in an historic ritual. The tradition is to climb the temple stairs to receive with open arms the energy of the sun in the moment that its rays fall perpendicularly over the top of the immense pyramid.
Autumnal Equinox Rituals
There are traditions for the Fall Equinox, too, although fewer. While the beginning of spring is a joyous occasion, the coming of colder weather and shorter days is a more inward-focused and perhaps even melancholy occasion. After the autumnal equinox, the nights become longer than the days, as the North Pole tilts away from the sun. It is commonly known as the first day of fall.
The Autumnal equinox is called Mabon, or Second Harvest, in the pagan tradition. It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to set personal intentions for the coming winter. Wiccan rituals for Mabon include building an altar with harvest fruits and vegetables, meditating on balance, collecting and feasting on apples, offering apples to the goddess, sharing food, and expressing gratitude for life’s simple blessings.
Andean Equinox Traditions in South America
The word raymi comes from the Quechua language. Loosely translated as “religious festival,” raymi can signify either equinox or solstice. While both the sun and the moon are important in each festival, the solstices are generally considered to be masculine holidays primarily associated with the sun and the equinoxes are feminine and primarily associated with the moon.
Raymi festivals involve ritual bathing, often by the light of the moon or in the hours before dawn. At midday, during the height of the sun’s passage through the sky, there are parades and huge communal gatherings.
People feast on hornado, a popular roast pork dish which is often accompanied by tender cooked corn kernels known as mote and potato pancakes called llapingachos. In the days leading up to the big celebration, indigenous women make chicha de jora, a fermented corn drink. Festival goers pass around gourds of this chicha to share.
All four raymis share many common traditions. Here is a handy chart with the theme of each festival in Quechua (the ancient language of the Incas), Spanish and English:
The March Equinox is known as Pawkar Raymi. This is a day to celebrate Pachamama, which is the Andean name for Mother Earth. The rainy season typically starts in November in the Andes. By March, those rains have brought forth an abundance of colorful fruits and flowers. This means that the March Equinox is celebrated as the harvest season both in the Southern Hemisphere and along the Equator.
Many Andean communities gather for Pawkar Raymi on or near the day of the equinox. These celebrations are often called Mushak Nina. While these events are commonly advertised as the Andean New Year, the term actually translates to “new fire.” Fire is an important element in Andean cosmology believed to cleanse and bring renewal.
In other Andean communities, people celebrate Pawkar Raymi alongside Carnaval, as well as the Catholic holiday Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras on the eve of the 40 days of Lent. In Ambato, Ecuador people celebrate La Fiesta de La Fruta y Las Flores.
Here are some common words and phrases related to the Equinox that you can use in conversation!
|Northern Hemisphere||Hemisferio norte||eh-miss-fer-ee-oh nor-tay|
|Southern Hemisphere||Hemisferio austral||eh-miss-fer-ee-oh aw-stral|
Take a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and learn to converse about the equinoccio traditions and more with one of our professional teachers!
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