Mar 202017

The March Equinox occurs in most places on this day. Every year I get irked by the ethnocentrism of people when the equinoxes or solstices come.  Let’s begin with the name.  I call it the March Equinox because it occurs in March all over the world.  In the northern hemisphere it is the vernal (Spring) equinox and in the southern hemisphere it is the autumnal equinox. It would be the height of ethnocentrism to call this post The Vernal Equinox.  That’s leaving out half the world.  Today is the day, the world over, when day and night are almost equal in length.  Here in Mantua the day is 8 minutes longer than the night.  More importantly, today is the day when the sun is directly overhead at the equator – briefly – and that is the actual moment of the equinox.  It occurs at 10:29 UTC (universal time) this year (2017).  An equinox or a solstice is not a day on the calendar, but a moment in time on a specific day.  But it gets more complicated.

Facebook greeted me when I woke up this morning with a cheery message “It’s the first day of Spring.” Leaving aside the fact that it’s autumn in the southern hemisphere, it’s not the first day of anything.  Judging the passage of the seasons by celestial events is ludicrous.  Look around you !!  At the beginning of March here in northern Italy the temperatures were moderating, daffodils were blooming, trees were budding, and migratory birds were starting to appear. SPRING HAD ARRIVED.  I expect that back in my old home in the Catskills in New York they’re still buried in feet of snow. I mean . . . if you want to measure the arrival of the seasons by dates on the calendar, go ahead – but I think it’s a stupid custom. At the very least it points out that a lot of people gauge the world around them by what they are told on mass media, rather than by what their bodies tell them: a sad state of affairs that I am unlikely to do much to change.  For me, Spring comes when it comes, not when the calendar tells me it’s here.  My body tells me that Spring has been here for at least 2 weeks.

Why are there FOUR seasons anyway?  Why not two? [Or in some parts of the world, none]. There are many cultures in the world that divide the year into the warm season and the cold season. That seems perfectly reasonable to me, although I understand the feeling of transition from one to the other, and the desire to give those times of transition special names. Parceling the seasons into exactly 3-month periods makes no sense to me. Winters in Buenos Aires and Mantua are quite short, and the summers long. Some parts of the world, SE Asia for example, traditionally divide the year into the rainy season and the dry season.

All in all, therefore, if you want to claim that today is the first day of Spring because that’s what the calendar says, even though you are neck deep in snow, or sunbathing, go ahead. I’ll pay attention to what my body feels.

For some time the March Equinox was the date for celebrating Earth Day.  The underlying theme was that on the equinox the world evens out for a moment – everywhere in the world day and night are of equal length. John McConnell first introduced the idea of a global holiday called “Earth Day” at the 1969 UNESCO Conference on the Environment to be held on the March Equinox. The first Earth Day proclamation was issued by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto on March 21, 1970. Celebrations were held in various cities, such as San Francisco and in Davis, California with a multi-day street party. UN Secretary-General U Thant supported McConnell’s global initiative to celebrate this annual event; and on February 26, 1971, he signed a proclamation to that effect, saying:

May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.

United Nations secretary-general Kurt Waldheim observed Earth Day with similar ceremonies on the March equinox in 1972, and the United Nations Earth Day ceremony has continued each year since on the day of the March equinox (the United Nations also works with organizers of the April 22 global event). Margaret Mead added her support for the equinox Earth Day, and in 1978 wrote:

Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.

Earth Day draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way – which is also the most ancient way – by using the vernal Equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making the length of night and day equal in all parts of the Earth. To this point in the annual calendar, EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another. But the selection of the March Equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth, as seen from space, appropriate.

She does slip and say “vernal Equinox” once, but she is trying to say that celebrating the equinox is unifying, not divisive.

At the moment of the equinox, it is traditional to observe Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, which was donated by Japan to the United Nations. Over the years, celebrations have occurred in various places worldwide at the same time as the UN celebration. On March 20, 2008, in addition to the ceremony at the United Nations, ceremonies were held in New Zealand, and bells were sounded in California, Vienna, Paris, Lithuania, Tokyo, and many other locations. Nowadays peace bells all over the world ring out on this day.

I have to give a recipe that uses equal parts of its ingredients to celebrate the equinox..  There aren’t a great number, it is true.  My apple crumble topping uses equal parts of its ingredients, but I have given that recipe already.  Another one is the classic pound cake.  The French call pound cake quatre-quarts (four quarters) because the basic recipe uses equal parts of four ingredients – eggs, flour, butter, and sugar.  Equal parts means equal by volume in this case.  I’m going to leave it up to you what actual measurements you want to use and also how you want to combine the ingredients. Typically you beat the butter and sugar together until they are sufficiently creamed, then add the eggs one at a time, and finally fold in the flour.  You’ll also need a pinch of salt and some flavoring (usually vanilla).  If you separate the eggs and beat the yolks and whites separately to a froth, and fold them in to your batter gently, you’ll end up with a sponge cake. Extra ingredients are up to you.  Candied fruits make a nice addition, as does lemon zest.