FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23: The color-changing leaves and crisp air of fall are spreading across the Northern Hemisphere— and on this day at 5:05 a.m. EDT, the autumnal equinox officially occurs. During the equinoxes, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is precisely in line with the center of the Sun, although this event occurs for only a moment. (Wikipedia has details.) This morning, the sun will be at the autumnal point. For an instant, the center of the Sun can be observed as vertically overhead in specific places on Earth. Although the equinoxes are usually associated with equal lengths of day and night, most places on Earth experience a day near the equinox—known as an equilux—when the day and night are, indeed, equal in length.
From Korea and Iran to Buddhists and Modern Wiccans
For many centuries, the autumnal equinox has sparked celebrations on nearly every continent. In Iran, the September equinox is the first day of the calendar—and a popular Zoroastrian festival of sharing. Koreans welcome autumn with a massive harvest festival that lasts several days, and the UK also has shared this harvest tradition by hosting a festival on the Sunday of the full moon closest to the September equinox. China deems this time appropriate for the Moon Festival, a time when decorated lanterns fill dark streets and dragons dance joyously. (Check out a New York Times article for more.) Towering moon cakes represent the 13 months of a complete Chinese year. For modern Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere, today is called Mabon; for Buddhists, it is Higan.
Ancient pagans not only gave thanks for harvest around the September equinox, but also attempted communication with spirits—and for good reason. They believed that the equinox produced a season shift in the Earth that allowed better access to other dimensions. Most modern Pagans today still give thanks to the Sun for the light of summer on Mabon, but also gather with family and friends for a feast. (Get all the info at Wicca.com.) With bread, nuts, apples, wine and corn on the table, Pagans and Wiccans treat the autumnal equinox as a type of New Year by wrapping up old business and preparing for winter’s rest. Even non-Pagans can appreciate the natural wonders of fall by walking in the woods or gathering dried herbs and seeds.
A Visit to Japan
Buddhists in Japan join in the magnetism of the autumnal equinox by paying respect to ancestors: visits to family graves, grave cleaning and the arranging of flowers for deceased relatives is common today. Still, more than just deceased spirits are honored on the autumnal equinox. Called Higan in Japan, the term is translated into “the other,” or “that shore of Sanzu River,” meaning that devotees attempt to cross from a current shore of ignorance to the shore of Enlightenment. (Learn more from Wikipedia.) In centuries past, summer field workers could take a break when autumn came, allowing time to reconnect with Buddhism and Buddhist practices.
In Annapolis, the Socks Return
Looking for a silly way to mark autumn this year? Follow in the (bare) footsteps of boatyard employees and sailboat owners in Annapolis, Md. Each spring, these folks bid farewell to footwear at the Burning of the Socks festival; in fall, socks are put back on with much fervor and show.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.