Spring is the season of new beginnings. Fresh buds bloom, animals awaken and the earth seems to come to life again. Farmers and gardeners plant their seeds and temperatures slowly rise. The timing of these changes varies depending upon location.
What most people call spring relies on the astronomical definition of the word. Spring is generally considered the period between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Defined by the angle of Earth's tilt toward the sun, astronomical spring relies on equinoxes and solstices to define it.
Equinoxes are special days during the year when day and night are almost equal. There are two equinoxes, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring, or vernal, equinox occurs around March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 22 in the Southern Hemisphere.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spring is one of two times when the Earth's axis is not pointed toward or away from the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, the North Pole is tipped at its greatest angle toward the sun during the summer solstice, which occurs around June 21. In the Southern Hemisphere, around December 21, it is the South Pole's turn to be nearer. As such, in the Northern Hemisphere, astronomical spring runs from March 21 to June 21, while in the Southern Hemisphere it encompasses September 21 to December 21, thought the dates may shift slightly from year to year.
The air may lose its winter chill before the middle of March or September, though. Weather forecasters define meteorological spring as a three-month period based on rising temperatures. North of the equator, meteorological spring takes place in March, April and May, while in the south it is characterized by the months of September, October and November, according to NOAA.
In the hemisphere that is tilted closer to the sun, temperatures become warmer. Warmer temperatures means the ground, which may have frozen over the winter months, grows softer and more yielding to plants. Spring is often marked by increased rainfall, which helps to water the infant seeds taking root in the ground.
Animals that spent the winter in hibernation come out of their dens, while those that traveled to warmer regions return. Many animals give birth in the spring. Winter coats are shed by those that sported them, and some animals may change coloration to blend in with their new surroundings. [Photos: Stunning Songbirds Return for Spring]
The rising rainfall of spring may bring with it an increase in flooding as melting snow overwhelms rivers. Spring may also boast storms, as warm air from the equator combines with still-cool air farther north or south.
Tornadoes are common during the spring in the United States as air of different temperatures combine. The world's deadliest tornado occurred April 26, 1989, in Bangladesh. It left a mile (1.6 kilometer) wide path for 10 miles (16 k), killing 1,300 people and leaving 80,000 people homeless, according to The Weather Channel.
A time of celebration
Many cultures celebrate the return of spring, the blossoming of nature or the rise of the vernal equinox.
In Japan, the annual blossoming of cherry trees has become a significant national event. Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a time for festivals and gatherings at parks and shrines, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, symbolize the transience of life, which is a major theme in Buddhism.
People of the Jewish faith celebrate Passover, which commemorates when the Jewish people were freed from slavery to Egypt, according to History. The day falls on the first full moon after the northern spring equinox and lasts for seven days.
Spring in many countries with a strong Christian tradition is marked by Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his triumph over physical death. However, it has roots in older traditions.
"Easter is derived from a much older celebration of fertility and rebirth, the Celtic festival of Ostara," Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, told Live Science. "The bunnies and the eggs are symbolic of fertility and reproduction."
Albania celebrates Dita e Verës on March 14, which also stems from pagan roots. Pilgrimages were once made to the peaks of the Albanian mountains, where prayers were offered to the Sun God for a prosperous year.
Mayday celebrations are common around Europe. The Maypole dance is a popular folk festival, particularly in parts of Germany and the United Kingdom. "The pole symbolizes sacred trees, the world axis, the phallus, growth and regeneration," said De Rossi.
It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want — oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! — Mark Twain
Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes. — Carl Friedrich Gauss
Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" — Robin Williams
Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! — Sitting Bull
O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? — Percy Bysshe Shelley
In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. — Margaret Atwood
Spring is God's way of saying, 'One more time!' — Robert Orben
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses, a box where sweets compacted lie. — George Herbert
Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day. — Elizabeth Bowen
Sweet April showers do spring May flowers. — Thomas Tusser
Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor.