The equinox occurs twice a year, falling this year on the 20th of March and the 23rd of September. Symbolically, the equinox represents balance, equality and harmony, with the changing seasons marking a time of transition. It also beautifully illustrates nature’s innate wisdom and resilience as plants and animals slow down, change colour and prepare for winter or begin to rebirth and renew as they return to life after the colder, darker months.
The word “equinox” descends from “aequus”, the Latin words for "equal" or "even," and “nox” for "night". It’s particularly apt as it’s used in astronomy to describe the point when the Earth's axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in a nearly equal amount of daylight and darkness across the world. In the Northern Hemisphere, the upcoming equinox marks the end of astronomical summer and the beginning of autumn (autumnal equinox). In contrast, it marks the end of winter and the start of spring (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
Autumnal Equinox Past and Present
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, as the leaves begin to turn and the air becomes crisp, it signals that autumn has arrived.
Mythologically, the autumn equinox is associated with the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. While Persephone spends half the year in the underworld with Hades, her mother causes the Earth to wither and die, resulting in autumn and winter. Her return marks the start of spring, and the land again becomes fertile and fruitful.
In ancient times, the autumn equinox, also known as Mabon or Pagan Thanksgiving, was a celebration of the second harvest (Lughnasadh is the first, Samhain is the third) when farmers gathered hearty foods like gourds, pumpkins and apples. Modern Mabon celebrations are a time to give thanks for the abundance of the Earth and set intentions for the year ahead. It’s also considered a time to reflect, acknowledge personal growth and successes and let go of the things that no longer serve you. Adapting to changing seasons, just like the natural world, can help us learn to embrace change and find beauty in life's transitions.
Many cultures have traditions and celebrations during the autumn equinox. In Japan, it is a time to honour ancestors, meditate, and give thanks. In China, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a time for family reunions and giving mooncakes. People gather at sunrise at Stonehenge in the UK and the ancient Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico to thank the Earth and prepare for the winter months ahead.
Noticing and Connecting with Nature in Autumn
Observing and connecting with nature during the autumn equinox is a beautiful way to honour the changing seasons. Animal fur starts getting thicker, and species begin gathering food and preparing their homes for the colder months. Wild berries, flowering ivy, thriving fungi, migrating birds, and murmurations of starlings - vast groups of shape-shifting starling clouds that swoop across the sky - are all part of autumn's incredible natural show.
When there is less sunlight, deciduous trees cease producing chlorophyll, which they use to convert light into energy to grow and give leaves their green colour. As production slows down, the chlorophyll fades, and nature gives her last hurrah before winter in a blaze of orange, red, and brown glory. Later, the temperature drop causes auxin production to slow down, breaking the abscission layer and causing the leaves to detach. Losing leaves helps the tree retain water during this season, so it needs less energy to stay alive. Additionally, the fallen leaves add nutrients to the soil, contributing to the incredible circular nature of the natural world.
The September equinox also marks the beginning of aurora season in the northern hemisphere, making it the perfect time to start sky gazing. While the northern lights occur year-round, there is greater aurora activity around the equinoxes. As auroras are weaker than sunlight, sightings are not possible from May to July and most of August.
However you celebrate, the autumn equinox is a perfect time to appreciate the changing seasons and the abundance of nature. Whether with an autumnal feast, a hike in the woods, bringing fresh or dried flowers and gourds into your living space or simply by taking a moment to reflect and appreciate the beauty around you, take inspiration from the power and resilience of the natural world, and embrace the transitions and changes that come with each new season.