Terry’s Take: The vernal equinox and balancing eggs
March 20th is the first day of spring, or vernal equinox, as astronomers would have it — vernal meaning “of or pertaining to spring,” equinox meaning “equal night.” As the angle of the earth’s tilt toward the sun changes throughout the year, lengthening or shortening the days according to season, there are two times annually when day and night are essentially more-or-less equal in length: the spring and autumnal equinoxes. These celestial tipping points have been observed for thousands of years and given rise to a considerable body of folklore.
Spring has been celebrated throughout human history as a time of organic and spiritual rebirth following the “dying of the year” in winter. The ancient Germanic festival of Ostara (in honor of the goddess also known as Eostra, from whose name the word estrogen was derived) celebrated the yearly return of light and life with fertility rituals and symbols, some of which still survive in the modern observance of the Christian holiday Easter, which traditionally falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
The egg being the most literal and obvious of all fertility symbols, ancient eggish customs survive not only in the form of egg rolling and Easter egg hunts, but also in the superstitious belief generally attributed to the Chinese, that you can stand raw eggs on end on the first day of spring. Apparently this comes from from the notion that due to the sun’s equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply allowing eggs to stand.
From a skeptical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense. There’s a fall equinox every year, as well. Why are there no egg balancing contests on the first day of autumn? Secondly, while it’s true that on both equinoxes the earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun, making day and night of equal length, there’s no scientific reason to suppose that such an alignment exerts any perceptible effect on solid objects here on earth. Thirdly, if the equinox can cause this curious anomaly, why not others? Why don’t we see people standing pencils, lollipops, and foot-long hot dogs on end on the first day of spring. Why just eggs?
I’m not saying it can’t be done — standing raw eggs on end, I mean — it certainly can, but it takes patience, eggs of just the right shape (trial and error is the only way to find them), a pinch of salt if all else fails, and — here’s the biggest “secret” of all — you can do it equally well any day of the year. I dare you!