17 Mar has 12 hours of daylight, but spring is 3 days after. Why?
Why is the Vernal Equinox confusing to students of Latin.
Ask most people what happens on the first day of spring and you will get "12 hours of daylight and night" (i.e. equinox), which is close but not quite right. Some might say the northern hemisphere of the Earth is neither tilted away or toward the Sun. A few might even state that on that day, the equatorial plane of the Earth crosses the center of the Sun. However, these last two explanations, while correct, don't explain why the first day of 12 hour-daylight happens a few days earlier.
The way I use in class to explain what is going on is to say that on the day of the vernal (or the autumnal) equinox is when it takes 12 hours for the center of the Sun to cross the horizon in the morning to when the center crosses the horizon in the evening. Since we start counting daylight when the first part of the Sun peeks above the horizon to when the last part of the Sun goes below the horizon, it becomes obvious that the day of the "equinox" will not really have equal day and equal night.
Please note that 12 hours of daylight happens on different days depending on how close you are to the equator (the closer, the more ahead of the the Vernal Equinox you will get the true equinox).