Why is it called equinox?
On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world. This is the reason it's called an "equinox", derived from Latin, meaning "equal night".
However, even if this is widely accepted, it isn't entirely true. In reality equinoxes don't have exactly 12 hours of daylight.
The March equinox occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north. This happens either on March 19, 20 or 21 every year. On any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the two equinoxes, the Earth's axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun.
Celebrating new beginnings
In the northern hemisphere the March equinox marks the start of spring and has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth. Many cultures and religions celebrate or observe holidays and festivals around the March equinox.
Equinoxes – along with solstices – have been celebrated in cultures all over the world for as long as we have written history. One of the most famous ancient Spring equinox celebrations was the Mayan sacrificial ritual by the main pyramid in Chichen Itzá, Mexico.
The snake of sunlight
Every year millions of people gather to assist in the spring and autumn equinoxes which take place in the many archaeogical sites within Mexico, in particular the equinox in Chichén Itzá.
Due to the autumn weather (rain season) it is always risky to wait for the autumn equinox. If you are able to, then you should opt for the Spring equinox.
The town of Chichén Itzá which, by modern roads, is 1 700 km from Tula, is comprised of the most beautiful Toltec structure. "Quetzalcóatl", translated into Mayan language becomes "Kukulcán". It became a booming town between the 5th and 13th centuries. The conquerors fought in the centre of the city, 15km2 large, a majestic pyramid that the Spanish named "El Castillo".
Highly populated, the city is the key sector of the social organisation around which gravitate a population composed of farmers and artists, in a universe led by belief.
The particular orientation of "Castillo" is not by chance. It is situated 21°12' north towards east. It resulted from meticulous research which allows for the play of light and shadows on the equinox days, approximately 2 hours before sunset. The 9 degree angles project a shadow onto the north stairway which appears to give body and movement to the serpent heads found at the base. The shadow on the north stairway draws the illusion of a serpent, ending with a sculpted stone head the effigy of Kukulcán, Mayan version of the God of the Feathered Serpent.
Knowledge of the equinoxes and solstices is also crucial in developing dependable calendars, another thing the Mayans and their predecessors clearly had gotten the hang of.
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