Autumnal Equinox
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AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

Harvest Festivals In Great Britain: The people of the British Isles have given thanks at fall harvest festivals since pagan times. Harvest festivals traditionally were held on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon. Early English settlers took the harvest festival tradition with them to America. These tradition festivals, once celebrated around the equinox, formed the basis of American Thanksgiving, which we now celebrate in November.

Greek Mythology: To the ancient Greeks, the September equinox marks the return of the goddess Persephone to the darkness of the underworld, where she is reunited with her husband Hades.

Chinese Harvest Moon Festival: The full moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox is sometimes called the Harvest Moon. The Chinese began celebrating the fall harvest at the Harvest Moon centuries ago, during the Shang dynasty. Ancient Chinese celebrated the successful harvest of rice and wheat and made offerings to the moon. Ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese people still celebrate the Harvest Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, lanterns adorn streets and family and friends gather to give thanks, share food and watch the moon. Round pastries, called mooncakes, are often enjoyed at this time.

Japanese Higan: Higan is a holiday celebrated by some Japanese Buddhists. It takes place twice a year, during the fall and spring equinoxes. During Higan, Japanese Buddhists will return to their hometowns to pay respects to their ancestors. Higan means “from the other shore of the Sanzu River.” In Buddhist tradition, crossing the mythical Sanzu River meant passing into the afterlife.

French Republican Calendar: During the French Revolution, the French government designed and implemented a new yearly calendar. Each new year would start at midnight on the day of the autumnal equinox. In the revolutionary attempt to rid the calendar of religious or royalist influence, each month was named after a natural element.
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Harvest Festivals In Great Britain: The people of the British Isles have given thanks at fall harvest festivals since pagan times. Harvest festivals traditionally were held on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon. Early English settlers took the harvest festival tradition with them to America. These tradition festivals, once celebrated around the equinox, formed the basis of American Thanksgiving, which we now celebrate in November.

Greek Mythology: To the ancient Greeks, the September equinox marks the return of the goddess Persephone to the darkness of the underworld, where she is reunited with her husband Hades.

Chinese Harvest Moon Festival: The full moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox is sometimes called the Harvest Moon. The Chinese began celebrating the fall harvest at the Harvest Moon centuries ago, during the Shang dynasty. Ancient Chinese celebrated the successful harvest of rice and wheat and made offerings to the moon. Ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese people still celebrate the Harvest Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, lanterns adorn streets and family and friends gather to give thanks, share food and watch the moon. Round pastries, called mooncakes, are often enjoyed at this time.

Japanese Higan: Higan is a holiday celebrated by some Japanese Buddhists. It takes place twice a year, during the fall and spring equinoxes. During Higan, Japanese Buddhists will return to their hometowns to pay respects to their ancestors. Higan means “from the other shore of the Sanzu River.” In Buddhist tradition, crossing the mythical Sanzu River meant passing into the afterlife.

French Republican Calendar: During the French Revolution, the French government designed and implemented a new yearly calendar. Each new year would start at midnight on the day of the autumnal equinox. In the revolutionary attempt to rid the calendar of religious or royalist influence, each month was named after a natural element.
In pagan mythology, the equinox is called Mabon, or Second Harvest. It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness. It is also a time of preparing for Samhain (October 31–November 1), the bigger pagan festival that begins winter. Some Wiccan rituals for Mabon include building an altar with harvest fruits and vegetables, meditating on balance, gathering and feasting on apples, offering apples to the goddess, sharing food, and counting one’s blessings.

Japan marks the equinoxes—both of them—with a period called Ohigan (sometimes spelled O-higan). The Japanese Buddhist belief is that the land of the afterlife is due west, and during the equinoxes, the sun sets directly west. The equinoxes are also symbolic of the transitions of life. The week around each equinox is Ohigan, a time to visit the graves of one's ancestors, to spruce up the grave sites, and to leave flowers. It is also a time of meditation and to visit living relatives.

China and Vietnam celebrate the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on the full moon nearest to the equinox. On a lunar calendar, that is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It is celebrated with the usual festival activities, plus gazing at the moon and eating moon cakes. In the southern U.S., Moon Pies are often used in place of moon cakes. A similar holiday in Korea is called Chuseok.
The Romans held a festival dedicated to Pomona, goddess of fruits and growing things. However, the most famous ancient myth comes from Greece.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the onset of fall is closely linked to the story of the abduction of Persephone, also called Kore or Cora. She was a goddess who was abducted from her mother, harvest goddess Demeter, and taken to the underworld to become the wife of Hades, the god-king of the underworld.

After a period of mourning and struggle, Demeter eventually got her daughter back from Hades, but only for nine months of the year. Every fall, Persephone would return to the underworld to spend three months with Hades. During these months, Demeter refused to use her divine skills to make plants grow, explaining why we have three months of winter every year.

Navaratri is a Hindu festival which lasts several days in the autumn. The festival honors the divine feminine Devi (Durga) and is celebrated in the first half of the Hindu calendar month Ashvin, which falls in the months of September and October.
Grapes are everywhere in the fall, so it's no surprise that the Mabon season is a popular time to celebrate wine-making, and deities connected to the growth of the vine. Whether you see him as Bacchus, Dionysus, the Green Man, or some other vegetative god, the god of the vine is a key archetype in harvest celebrations. Learn more about the Gods of the Vine.

In the British Isles, Michaelmas is celebrated on September 29. As the Feast of St. Michael within the Catholic church, this date is often associated with the harvest because of its proximity to the autumn equinox. Although it's not a Pagan holiday in the true sense, Michaelmas celebrations often included older aspects of Pagan harvest customs, such as the weaving of corn dolls from the last sheaves of grain. Read more about the Michaelmas Celebration.
Paganism has always had roots tied with the natural world, and the autumnal equinox is no exception.  This equinox, in the pagan tradition, is called Mabon — or Second Harvest. Mabon is a time in which pagans will give thanks to the summer and pay respects to the approaching darkness.  A few rituals that tend to be associated with Mabon include — but are certainly not limited to — the building of an altar with harvested fruits and vegetables, the gathering and feasting of apples, offering apples to the goddess, and sharing food with the community.

While pagan traditions tend to lean towards the harvest itself, Japanese tradition tends to focus inward towards their own family and ancestors.  However, it isn’t just the autumnal equinox but both, and these periods are called Ohigan. According to Japanese Buddhist beliefs, the land of the afterlife is due west, and during these times the sun sets directly west, causing these solstices to become symbolic of both the deceased and the transitions of life.  During the weeks surrounding the equinoxes, it is common to visit both your living relatives and the graves of one’s ancestors in order to both pay respect and clean the grave site, leaving flowers behind when you depart.
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