The fall equinox, also known as the autumnal equinox, marks the transition from summer to fall and signals the shift from the warmer months of summer to the cooler, crisper days of autumn. It usually falls on September 22nd or 23rd in the Northern Hemisphere and March 20th or 21st in the Southern Hemisphere. You can find the exact time of the fall equinox for your location here.
Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.
– Hai Borland
The fall equinox has deep roots in astronomy, agriculture, and mythology. Its significance lies in its association with the balance between day and night and the harvest season.
- Astronomical significance: The equinoxes occur when the Earth’s axis is neither tilted toward nor away from the sun, resulting in nearly equal lengths of day and night. This balance of light and darkness is symbolic of harmony and equilibrium.
- Agricultural significance: For ancient agrarian societies, the fall equinox signalled the time to reap the rewards of a year’s hard work. Crops such as grains, fruits, and vegetables were harvested, and communities gathered to celebrate the season’s abundance. This celebration of the harvest became a cultural tradition that continues to this day.
- Mythological and cultural significance: Many cultures have associated the fall equinox with myths and legends emphasizing themes of balance, transformation, and the passage of time. For example, in Greek mythology, the fall equinox is linked to the story of Persephone’s return to the underworld, marking the beginning of winter.
Past meets present
In medieval England, the last sheaf of harvested corn represented the’ spirit of the field’ and was made into a doll. Corn dolls were drenched with water, representing rain or burned to symbolize the death of the grain spirit. Burning these giant wicker figures, often shaped like animals or human effigies, was a symbolic act of purification and renewal. This tradition of communal celebration and ritualistic burning carried with it a sense of collective catharsis and spiritual connection.
The traditional burning of wickerwork figures as mock sacrifices bears an intriguing connection to today’s Burning Man Festival. Participants at Burning Man create elaborate and often gigantic art installations and sculptures, which they eventually set on fire during the festival’s climax. This act of burning represents the transient and impermanent nature of human existence, emphasizing the importance of creative expression, community, and radical self-reliance. In both cases, the burning of these structures serves as a cathartic experience, allowing people to let go of attachments and embrace change while fostering a sense of togetherness and participation in a larger, shared narrative.
Fall Equinox Celebrations Around the World
The fall equinox is celebrated in diverse ways across the globe, each reflecting the region’s unique cultural and historical contexts. Here are some examples:
- Mabon (Celtic): In Celtic traditions, Mabon, named after a Welsh god, is celebrated as a time of thanksgiving and feasting. People gather to give thanks for the harvest and engage in rituals to honor the changing seasons.
- Chuseok (Korean): Chuseok is a Korean harvest festival that coincides with the fall equinox. Families come together to share food, pay respects to ancestors, and engage in traditional dances and games.
- Mid-Autumn Festival (Chinese and Vietnamese): This festival is celebrated with mooncakes, lanterns, and family gatherings. It is a time for appreciating the moon’s beauty and giving thanks for the harvest.
- Alban Elfed (Druid traditions): Alban Elfed is derived from the Welsh language and translates to “Light of the Water.” It’s a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the interplay between the elements, particularly water and Earth, as they relate to the harvest season. Water-themed rituals, harvest observance, meditations on balance and honoring ancestors are common activities.
- Harvest Festivals (North America): In the United States and Canada, harvest festivals like Thanksgiving are celebrated in late September or early October. Families come together for feasts, express gratitude, and engage in activities such as apple picking and corn mazes.
Modern Rituals to Honor the Fall Equinox
- Nature Walks: Embrace the beauty of the changing season by taking a nature walk. Notice the colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air, the path of the sun in the sky and the signs of the approaching winter. Bring back a few fallen leaves or acorns to decorate your home.
- Feasting and Sharing: In the spirit of gratitude for the harvest, organize a fall feast with family and friends. Use seasonal ingredients like apples, pumpkins, and root vegetables to create a hearty meal. Consider sharing your bounty with those in need.
- Harvest and Preserve: Embrace the agricultural roots of the equinox by visiting local farms, orchards, or farmers’ markets. Gather fresh produce and engage in activities like canning or preserving to connect with the harvest season.
- Altar Creation: Create a fall equinox altar in your home with symbols of the season. This can include candles, gourds, apples, and representations of the balance between day and night. Use this space for meditation or reflection.
- Moon Gazing: If possible, spend time outdoors under the full moon during the Fall Equinox. Reflect on the changing lunar cycle and its connection to the changing seasons.
- Acts of Charity: In the spirit of thanksgiving and balance, consider donating to local food banks or participating in volunteer activities to support your local community during this season.
- Offerings to Ancestors: If your cultural tradition involves honoring ancestors, consider leaving offerings at a family altar or visiting their graves to show respect and gratitude.
- Ritual Burning: Gather, construct and arrange old wooden objects to let go of. Hold an intention of renewal and transformation, and set fire to the installation. Bear witness to the cycle of life & death and the eternal beauty of change.
Hopefully, you find a meaningful way to celebrate the changing seasons, the bountiful harvest, and the balance of life. Besides engaging in festivities/rituals to honor this special time, aligning your daily rhythm with seasonal changes can truly bring harmony and balance into your everyday life:
- Shift your wake time with the sun, as it rises a little bit later every day
- Make the most of the available daylight, as the days get shorter
- Enjoy hearty meals with local produce of this abundant time
- Soak up some sun (UVB) to top up your Vitamin D stores for winter
- Take a few minutes every day to reflect on what in your life is balance/harmony and what is not
Remember that having a robust yet dynamic rhythm tied to the natural cycles is a powerful way to usher in more harmony, balance and resilience in your life. Let this dynamism gradually shift your days from plenty of activity towards coziness and introspection of the season ahead.
Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.
– Samuel Butler