Twice a year the earth experiences what is called an equinox, which literally translated means “equal night.” In both March and September around the 20th to 21st, the light of the sun hits the earth directly on the equator meaning that the length of the day and night are more or less equal. In the northern hemisphere, March 20, 2014 marks the Spring equinox, while in the southern hemisphere it is called the autumnal equinox. The scientific reasons behind the equinoxes are perhaps less fascinating than the way in which cultures have marked these dates in their calendars for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, celebrating both the earth’s equinoxes and solstices with equal fervor.
If you are visiting Cancun or the Riviera Maya during the time of the spring equinox then you will know that this planetary occurrence was and is a big deal for the Mayan people. Each spring equinox, eager visitors stream to Chichen Itza to watch an incredible phenomena that occurs at the exact moment that the sun crosses what is known as the celestial equator (an imaginary line above the earth’s equator from south to north).
What Happens at Chichen Itza During the Spring Equinox?
Chichen Itza is perhaps one of the most famous Mayan archeological sites within easy access of Cancun and is indeed world renowned for its impressive temple / sacred pyramid known as El Castillo in Spanish. As the sun crosses the celestial equator on March 20, 2014, visitors and locals will see a shadow outlining the form of a snake of light (Kukulcán) descend the steps of El Castillo until reaching the bottom of Chichen Itza’s pyramid. Visitors to Chichen Itza can also explore the numerous buildings as well as the famous ball court of this sacred Mayan site dated around the time of the 9th century.
Was it Only the Maya that Worshipped the Spring Equinox?
Interestingly enough, celebration of the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere has been popular for thousands of years, with its roots in almost all pagan and pre-Hispanic cultures where it was crucial to study the sky to create reliable calendars. The Spring Equinox was particularly important as it marked the start of spring and represented rebirth and new beginnings in the earth’s cycles, which on a practical level meant more food and abundance. Therefore, it should come as no surprise then that many traditions, including the dates of the Christian Holy Week and the Persian new year, are calculated based on the occurrence of the spring equinox.