Spring Equinox in the Pioneer Valley

Celebrate the Vernal Equinox at UMass Sunwheel in Amherst

This Thursday, March 20th, 2014, on the day of the vernal equinox, families can visit the UMass Sunwheel in Amherst for a morning and/or evening gathering…

As we spend the month of March scouring the local landscape for signs of spring to appear, we often forget to prepare ourselves for the truest sign of spring there is: the vernal equinox. Marking the very first official day of spring, the vernal equinox is the moment at which the sun is located directly over the Earth’s equator. Along with a shadow-less noontime around the equator, the equinox brings six months of darkness to the south pole and six months of a perpetually visible sun to the north pole. And here in western Massachusetts? We get the beginning of springtime, lengthening days, gradual warmth, sweet maple syrup, and community celebrations that mark the change of season…

The precise moment of the vernal equinox this year is 12:57pm Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, March 20th, 2014, but the event can be celebrated all day long – or even in advance! On the day of the vernal equinox, families can visit the UMass Sunwheel in Amherst for one of two events: one for sunrise and one for sunset. Families can visit the Sunwheel – a collection of standing stones – located near McGuirk Stadium (just off Rocky Hill Road) to learn about the equinox, the history of the Sunwheel, and the role of sun and moon cycles in cultures and history from all over the world. The sunrise ceremony, held at 6:45am, will be very participatory in nature and will include meditation, reflection, song, and poetry in addition to teachings on seasonal astronomy. The evening ceremony, held at 6pm, is intended to be more educational in nature. Both events will be roughly an hour long, so dress warmly!

For additional ways to celebrate the vernal equinox listen to an archived spring equinox edition of the Hilltown Families Variety Show while perusing children’s books written about springtime and the role of the sun and moon in seasonal changes. Wendy Pfeffer’s A New Beginning pairs an age-appropriate scientific discussion of the equinox with information about its role in various world cultures, while Ellen Jackson’s The Spring Equinox details equinox celebrations held all around the world. Older students will enjoy Clare Walker Leslie’s The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today, which discusses not only traditions surrounding the vernal equinox, but all celebrations for all major sun and moon changes that take place throughout the year.

[Photo credit: (cc) Men in Black]

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