What is the autumnal equinox? Simply, it is an astronomical event that occurs in fall (between September 22-24 in the Northern Hemisphere — the precise date varies because of leap years). At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere enjoys their spring equinox. The equinox occurs when the sun rises directly in the east, rather than slightly north of east, and sets directly in the west, rather than south of east).
This change of seasons was long believed to have mystical significance. Across the globe, cultures gathered the bounty of the Earth and gave thanks. Early Americans established a tradition of Thanksgiving, but the celebration has been around since the beginning of time.
In Neopaganism, the sabbat of Mabon is celebrated on the autumn equinox. People used this time to express their thanks for the Earth’s bounty. Sharing food during a feast was a perfect way to honor the gods and goddesses, ensuring future blessings.
The Druids honor the God of the Forest, the Green Man, through offerings to trees. In this celebration, known as Mea’n Fo’mhair, herbs, fertilizers, ciders and wines are offered in thanks to the spirits of the Earth.
In Japan, the fall equinox is a national holiday called Autumnal Equinox Day. The holiday begins three days before the equinox, and lasts until three days after. Time is spent with family.
Entire families gather around the family graves to pay their respects to ancestors who have passed to the other side. Food, flowers, and incense are offered to the ancestors, and prayers are offered to the gods. Ohagi, a confection made of rice, is a popular offering at this time, and candy-makers must work hard to keep up with demand.
The Chinese also have a fall festival, the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival. This was a time of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth. All debts were squared before the beginning of festival, no doubt adding to the merriment. Taro root was a common treat, since legend stated that taro was the first food discovered at night.
Moon cakes, with pale yellow dough and a bright gold duck egg in the centre, were eaten to commemorate brave rebels who overthrew the invading Mongols. The Chinese revere the moon for its beautiful glow and changeable nature. These tasty treats have become the Chinese equivalent of turkey at Christmas dinner – a valued part of the celebration.
Whatever your religious or cultural background, we should all give thanks for the abundance that surrounds us. The autumnal equinox provides us with a perfect reason to be grateful for everything we have.