Saturday, March 20, 2010

Little Oscar explains the old egg balancing thing and other myths about the Equinox

It's That Day Again
Happy Vernal Equinox! I tried to get Little Oscar to repeat his equinoctial egg-balancing trick from last year, but he refused. "Once is enough to serve as a proof of principle," he said. "Why would you want me to repeat it?" He didn't think taking another photo was sufficient reason. So I had to use last year's photo.

But he did go on to expound about the myths surrounding the Vernal Equinox. It began when I made the mistake of referring to the Equinox as the day when the hours of night and day are equal. "No, they're not," he said, adding cryptically, "It's because the sun is not a point and the earth has an atmosphere."

He went on to explain that the day when night and day really are the same length depends on where you are, but always comes before the spring equinox and after the fall equinox. He said it was all explained in this National Geographic article, which I obviously had neglected to read after he had recommended it. "It also explains why the date of the first day of spring bounces around," he added. "If you just listened to me I wouldn't always have to repeat everything."

"As for the idea that you can balance an egg on end only on the equinox because the gravitational forces balance out, that's just stupid," he said. "You can balance an egg any day of the year. All it takes is some patience." he referred me to this deconstruction of the myth on and read from it for my benefit.
Many, many superstitions involving the breaking, balancing, burying, decorating, reading (for purposes of divination) and hiding of eggs have come to be part of the annual spring celebration. (The linking of egg-balancing with spring celebrations is demonstrated by the fact that the practice is associated only with the vernal equinox, not the autumnal equinox.)

The Chinese are thought to have originated the practice of standing eggs on end during the equinox. Just as the equinox symbolically restores balance to the world by signalling its rebirth after a season of darkness, the equinox literally balances the day by dividing it into equal portions of darkness and light. If the symbol of fertility — eggs — could be balanced on end during a day equally divided between day and night, this was a sign that all nature was in harmony. That the balancing of eggs could be achieved on any day of the year was of no importance; what everyone wanted and needed was a familiar, reassuring ritual to demonstrate that all was right with the world.
Suitably enlightened, I thanked Little Oscar and promised to take his reading suggestions more seriously in the future.

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