Saturday, September 22, 2018

Facts, Traditions and Folklore of the Autumnal Equinox

Photo courtesy bouldercast.com
Facts about the autumnal equinox: 

  • This year's autumnal equinox is on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 7:54pm in Colorado, marking the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The sun crosses the Earth's equator at the time of the equinox, from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern Hemisphere.
  • During the autumnal equinox, day and night are balanced to about 12 hours each all across the world.
  • In the far north, the autumnal equinox signals peak viewing of the aurora borealis or northern lights.The celestial display of brilliantly colored lights happens when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to light up. These light displays peak around the fall and spring equinox. That’s because disturbances in Earth’s atmosphere—known as geomagnetic storms—are strongest at these times.

In addition to seeing the leaves change and advertisements for pumpkin-spice-flavored everything, fall is usually characterized by large variations in temperatures, as well as an increase in low-pressure systems bringing rain, thunderstorms or even snow across the country. Generally, after the fall equinox, temperatures continue to turn colder and snow becomes more common.

Traditions and folklore of the autumnal equinox:

China and Vietnam celebrate the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn festival on the full moon nearest to the equinox. On a lunar calendar, that is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It is celebrated with the usual festival activities, plus gazing at the moon and eating moon cakes. In the southern U.S., moon pies are often used in place of moon cakes. A similar holiday in Korea is called Chuseok.

In old England, it was a time of transitions, as servants were paid their wages after the harvest, and workers scrambled to find new employment contracts. The employment fairs that facilitated this custom became an opportunity for community celebration. 

In British folklore, Old Michaelmas Day, the 10th of October, is the last day that blackberries should be picked. It is said that on this day, when Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush.

Neo-Druids gather at Stonehenge to watch the equinox sunrise. This happens every year, both in spring and fall. As with other pagan groups, the equinox is a time for Druids to offer thanks for a bountiful harvest and prepare for the darkness of winter.

To the ancient Greeks, the September equinox marks the return of the goddess Persephone to the darkness of the underworld, where she is reunited with her husband Hades.

During the French revolution, the government designed and implemented a new yearly calendar. Each new year would start at midnight on the day of the autumnal equinox. In the revolutionary attempt to rid the calendar of religious or royalist influence, each month was named after a natural element. The French followed this calendar from 1793 until Napoleon Bonaparte abolished it in 1806.

Regardless your personal beliefs, traditions and customs, the fall equinox in Colorado is a lovely time of year, worth celebrating before Old Man Winter makes an appearance!

For more information: 
History.com, Fall Equinox