One of the pleasures of life on the Central Coast is the temperate weather, the dependable sunny days stretching on like an almost endless spring, but even here in paradise the russet tones of fall eventually begin coloring the landscape. This year fall equinox, the astronomical day that marks the official beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere, is on September 22. Along with its counterpoint, spring equinox, fall equinox is one of only two days each year when the sun crosses the plane of Earth’s equator, and the hours of daylight and darkness are more or less equal.
Equinoxes and their astrological cousins, the solstices, have held significant cultural, spiritual and religious meaning for humans from ancient times. Prevailing theories around the building of megalithic structures such as Stonehenge and North American and Mesoamerican pyramids relate back to ceremonies and other important events which were scheduled around equinoxes and solstices. In modern times the number of holidays and celebrations observed on or near the autumnal equinox may be more prolific than you realized.
Mabon—Neopagans who observe European traditions celebrate Mabon on the day of fall equinox. Mabon is typically viewed as the second of three harvest holidays (Lammas, Mabon and Samhain) and is celebrated with festive gatherings to honor the Abundant-Mother aspects of goddess and/or the harvest gods such as the Corn King. As light and dark are in balance this day, it is also the custom of many Neopagans to meditate on or participate in group rituals that focus on improving personal balance.
Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish year. Falling on or around fall equinox, Yom Kippur is unique as a fall holiday in that there seems to be no link to any harvest traditions. The Day of Atonement is exactly what it sounds like, a day set aside to atone for one’s sins against man and God. As a Sabbath day, fasting and refraining from work is traditional.
Michealmas—The Catholic Church learned early on that asking Pagan converts to give up their traditional celebrations went smoother if a new holiday could be offered in return. Michaelmas, celebrated on September 29, is often thought to be a replacement for the more nature-focused celebrations European country folk enjoyed in the fall. Themes of harvest and abundance linger in the celebration of St. Michael however, as serving large loaves of bread and a well-fattened goose fed liberally on the stubble of harvested grain fields is the main event for a proper Michaelmas observance. Paying off debts is another significant tradition practiced at this time.
Hutash—The Chumash Native American tribe from Southern California observe fall equinox with a sun ceremony during the month of Hutash (September). After the harvest has been reaped, processed and stored, the sun celebration is a time for all tribal members to focus on unity and gratitude.
Eid al-Adha—In the Islamic religious calendar, the Prophet Abraham is commemorated on or around September 23 during Eid al Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice. During the celebrations, observants honor Abraham’s trials by sacrificing (or “harvesting”) an animal such as a sheep, goat or camel. Most of the meat from the sacrifice is shared with others and donated to the poor. The animal sacrifice and donation are symbolic of a devout Muslim’s willingness to be obedient and follow the Lord’s commands.
There are many ways to celebrate the turning of the season even if your religious or cultural persuasion doesn’t fit any of the above categories. Enjoy a drive along Highway 46 from Cambria to Paso Robles to view some of our region’s first-to-turn leaves. Collect rosehips for an herbal tea full of vitamin C to boost your immune system during the coming cold and flu season. Or make a giant pot of stew filled with seasonal vegetables and invite friends and family over for a fall equinox game night. Fall equinox is also a wonderful time to put out feeders for the birds and other small wildlife whose resources dwindle as the weather shifts. However you choose to celebrate the coming of fall, remember to be grateful for all you’ve “harvested” this year and share your abundance whenever possible.