As September draws to a close and the last remnants of summer start to slip away, we usher in the Autumnal Equinox. Sometimes called the September Equinox, it’s the astronomical start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere. While it’s a sign of colder weather and shorter days, it’s also a time seeped in much history, mythology and tradition.
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.
This year, the Autumnal Equinox officially arrives on September 23 at 3:05 a.m. EST. and brings with it much reason to celebrate. Despite the end of harvest season and the coming cold, dark months ahead, the Autumnal Equinox is popular time for events and celebration in cultures all around the world.
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”. As the spirits of the deceased reach Nirvana, they are honored by the loved ones left behind. Buddhists visit, clean and decorate the graves of their friends and family as a way to remember those they have lost.
Held on the day of September’s full moon — the Harvest Moon — this mid-autumn festival is a celebration of the abundant summer harvest season. According to Chinese myth, an ancient book of customs suggested that the emperor should offer a sacrifice to the sun in the spring and the moon in autumn. In China, Vietnam and Asian communities around the world, the Moon Festival is celebrated by snacking on mooncakes, a sweet delicacy saved just for this time of year.
The Hindu festival of Navaratri occurs in September or October, usually around the Autumnal Equinox, and spans 10 days. While the specifics about 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. Celebrations include dramatic re-enactments, folk dancing, fireworks and more.
Pagans, as well as Wiccans and Druids, refer to the Autumnal Equinox as Mabon. It is a time to express gratitude for everything the harvest has delivered, figuratively and literally. While those who celebrate Mabon give thanks for the food on their table, they also use this celebration as an opportunity to reflect on all the successes in their life and think about what’s to come. Mabon is a time to reap what you’ve sown and also prepare for the future.