As September draws to a close and the last remnants of summer start to slip away, we usher in the Autumnal Equinox.
While it’s a sign of colder weather and shorter days, it’s also a time seeped in history, mythology, and tradition.
What is the autumn equinox?
Sometimes called the September Equinox, it’s the astronomical start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere.
In Greek mythology, for instance, the Autumnal Equinox marks the return of the goddess Persephone to the underworld. According to legend, she was abducted by Hades and taken, against her will, to the underworld to be his wife. Her mother, Demeter, goddess of harvest and agriculture, was so distraught that she refused to let anything grow. Hades was ordered to release Persephone but concocted a scheme so that he only had to let her out for three months. Every spring, Persephone is free and Demeter happily provides for the people. In the fall, she must return to the underworld and nature ceases to grow in mourning.
When is the autumnal equinox?
Autumn Equinox 2022 lands on September 22. It’s usually around this date every year and brings with it much reason to celebrate. Despite the end of the harvest season and the coming cold, dark months ahead, the Autumnal Equinox is a popular time for events and celebrations in cultures all around the world.
For Pagans and Wiccans around the world, the Autumn Equinox is better known as Mabon, a harvest festival. The name Mabon comes from the Welsh God and son of the Earth Mother Goddess.
The Mabon celebration is a time to express gratitude for everything the harvest has delivered, figuratively and literally. It’s a time of feasting, gratitude, and self-reflection. Give thanks for the food on the table and also for every success in life. Reap what you’ve sown and prepare for what’s ahead.
How to celebrate Mabon
Want to bring Mabon traditions into your home? Here are some Mabon rituals you can try:
- Host a potluck dinner with family and friends
- Start a gratitude journal
- Go apple-picking
- Set up a small altar with Mabon offerings like seasonal flowers and fruit
- Spend time in nature
- Plant bulbs in your garden
In China, Vietnam, and other Asian communities everywhere, September’s full Harvest Moon is a cause for celebration. The Moon Festival is a mid-autumn event that celebrates the abundant summer harvest season. According to Chinese mythology, it was customary for the emperor to offer a sacrifice to the sun in the spring and the moon in autumn.
A sweet treat to celebrate the Moon Festival
Sometimes it’s called the Moon Cake Festival and for good reason. People wait all year to enjoy a mooncake, an offering to the Moon Goddess Chang’e for thousands of years.
These sweet delicacies have a thick pastry crust and a dense filling traditionally made from red bean paste, lotus seed, dates, or nuts, and seeds. One or more whole salted egg yolk is typically baked into the center to represent the full moon. Crusts are usually imprinted with Chinese characters for “harmony” or “longevity”.
The Hindu festival of Navaratri occurs in September or October, usually around the Autumnal Equinox, and spans 10 days. While the specifics of the holiday differ depending on what area you’re in, many use it as a way to honor the divine feminine goddess Durga and her incarnations. Navaratri commemorates a battle between Durga and a demon that results in the triumph of good over evil.
How is Navaratri celebrated?
Navaratri celebrations differ depending on location, but most festivals include activities such as:
- Gift giving, especially sweets, clothes, or housewares
- Visiting temples to view life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga
- Folk dancing, dramatic re-enactments, and processions
In Japan, both the September and March equinoxes are considered national holidays coinciding with a six-day Buddhist festival known as Higan or Higan-e, which translates to “other shore”. It’s the state of enlightenment known as Nirvana, attained by a Buddhist after death.
The equinox marks a balance of light and dark, like the union between the spiritual and psychical worlds. For Buddhists, it is a time to honor the loved ones who have reached that other shore.
How to honor Higan
For the three days before and after the equinox, people in Japan pay their respects by cleaning and decorating the gravesites of loved ones with a cluster of red amaryllis, known as higan flower. Prayers are said in homes and temples and offerings are made with flowers, incense, and sweet rice balls.