Celebrations of the Autumnal Equinox Around the Worldby Ron Sussberg on 08/19/19
Twice a year, it is believed that the length of the night will equal the length of the day. These days are referred to as equinoxes and they occur to signify the beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn. For centuries, civilizations have celebrated the arrival of the autumnal equinox as it commonly coincides with the middle of the harvest season. Naturally, there are spiritual beliefs and practices that traditionally accompany these celebrations, as well.
For various reasons across a number of cultures, the autumnal equinox has been revered for centuries. Many of the holidays that originated in honor of the autumnal equinox persist today.
Harvest Moon Festival
In China, the full moon which falls closest to the equinox leads to the start of the Harvest Moon Festival, also referred to as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The moon is a highlight of this festival, and round pastries known as mooncakes are shared and eaten as participants watch the moon and celebrate the success of the rice harvest.
Great Britain Harvest Festivals
Those in Great Britain celebrated the harvest with the arrival of the equinox, though they typically held their festivals on a Sunday regardless of what day on which the equinox actually fell. When Europeans crossed the Atlantic to colonize America, they brought this celebration with them, forming the basis of the Thanksgiving celebration.
In Japan, this Buddhist holiday occurs on both equinoxes. It serves to recognize the transient nature of life and honor the deceased. It is commonly believed in Japan that the land of the afterlife is due west, and on the equinoxes, the sun sets exactly west, drawing a connection between the cosmic event and spiritual beliefs. Participants of this holiday may venture to the graves of loved ones to tidy up the stones. On these holidays, the equinox reminds participants of how life may be quick to cease, but that death is not the end.
The Pagan holiday of Mabon falls on the autumnal equinox. This celebration welcomes in a time of harvest and prosperity. Autumn may be viewed as a time of decay as many trees lose their leaves and creatures begin preparing for the harsh winter, but in these belief systems, the equinox represents change and new beginnings. Every celebration is different, but many Mabon holidays are centered around gratitude, health, balance, and community.
Across the world and throughout history, the equinoxes have held great significance in the lives of many cultures. Though celebrations tend to differ based on geographic, religions, and other values, the autumnal equinox remains influential in our lives.