Celebrate & Learn about the Vernal Equinox at UMass Sunwheel

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On the day of the Vernal Equinox, families can visit the UMass Sunwheel in Amherst for a morning and/or evening gathering.

On the day of the Vernal Equinox, families can visit the UMass Sunwheel in Amherst for a morning and/or evening gathering.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox falls on March 20 or 21, depending on when the Sun crosses the celestial equator.

As we spend the month of March wishing away the snow and scouring the local landscape for the first signs of spring, we often forget to prepare ourselves for the most accurate sign of spring there is … the vernal equinox! Marking the first official day of spring, the vernal equinox is when 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.

Every equinox (and solstice), families can visit the UMass Sunwheel in Amherst for one of two events: one for sunrise and one for sunset. The sunrise ceremony, held at 6:45am, will be participatory and may include meditation, reflection, song, and poetry, in addition to teachings on seasonal astronomy. The evening ceremony, held at 6pm, is often intended to be more educational. Both events will be roughly an hour-long, so dress warmly! Families can visit the Sunwheel – a collection of standing stones – located near McGuirk Stadium (just off Rocky Hill Road in Amherst, MA) 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.

For additional ways to celebrate the vernal equinox, listen to the HFVS Spring Equinox Episode while perusing children’s books about springtime and the role of the Sun and moon in seasonal changes. Older students will enjoy Clare Walker Leslie’s The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today, which discusses traditions surrounding the vernal equinox and celebrations for all significant Sun and Moon changes that take place throughout the year. Wendy Pfeffer’s A New Beginning pairs an age-appropriate scientific discussion of the equinox with information about its role in various world cultures. At the same time, Ellen Jackson’s The Spring Equinox details equinox celebrations held worldwide.

[Photo credit: (cc) Michael Head


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