Thanksgiving at Autumnal Equinox, Mabon, Higan

Welcome fall—on the autumnal equinox. Photo in public domain courtesy of, SEPTEMBER 22: Leaves are turning crimson and orange, fragrant cider is pouring—it must be autumn! American Thanksgiving is still two months away, but there are ancient associations with thankfulness at this time of year—it’s also a major theme in the Jewish High Holy Days.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, a day when the tilt of the Earth’ axis is parallel with the sun and day and night appear to be equal in length. Don’t be fooled by loose translations, though—the equinox is actually a moment in time when the subsolar point is on the Equator. In other words—the place on Earth where the center of the Sun can be seen directly overhead. (Wikipedia has details.) On the autumnal equinox, the subsolar point crosses the Equator while moving southward. For science enthusiasts: Ponder the enormous intensity and radiation that the sun emits on geostationary satellites during the days around an equinox. The emissions are so powerful that they degrade satellite circuits! Now that’s some major power.


Now here’s something rare in our holidays column—a holiday tradition that dates from the 1970s. That’s when modern Pagan writer and activist Aidan Kelly began promoting the name Mabon for the equinox festival. Mabon is a legendary character in Welsh culture. Supposedly, he was a cousin of the great King Arthor, who plays a role in saving Mabon’s life at one point. Kelly went on to found the influential Pagan organization Covenant of the Goddess, which promotes civil rights for modern Wiccans among other things. Here is the Covenant of the Goddess website, where you can also find a summary of the current understanding of Mabon among Pagans and Wiccans. The site says, in part:

This day sees light and dark in balance again, before the descent to the dark times. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country, and Thanksgiving is an echo of these.

Typical practices include expressing thankfulness, while reflecting on the past year, plus feasting on nuts, apples and root vegetables.

Japanese Buddhists reflect on crossing to the “shore of Enlightenment” during Higan. Photo in public domain courtesy of jasondunn.comHIGAN FOR JAPANESE BUDDHISTS

Japanese Buddhists honor ancestors on Higan, an autumnal equinox holiday. For the living, this also involves an assessment of one’s own life today—and efforts to freshly make amends. The etymology of higan means “the other shore of Sanzu River,” referring to the shore of Enlightenment and peace that all humans strive to reach.


It appears that Chevrolet took a cue from Mother Nature when creating the Chevrolet Equinox, and this hot new car is continuing to gain momentum among consumers. Through August, the Equinox came up No. 2 on the Chevy bestseller list, landing only behind the Chevrolet Cruze compact car. (Read an article in the Detroit News.)

If gratitude is the name of the game this time of year, admire the beauty of the Autumn Flowering Higan Cherry tree! Robust and tolerant to cold, the Higan Cherry flowers during autumn. (Order this tree from

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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