September Equinox (Thursday, September 22, 2016): the First Day of Fall
There are 2 equinoxes every year – in September and March– when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.
Equinoxes are opposite on either side of the equator, so the autumnal (fall) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is the spring (vernal) equinox in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa.
The September equinox occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above Earth’s Equator – from north to south. This happens either on September 22, 23, or 24 every year.
On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world. This is the reason it’s called an “equinox”, derived from the Latin words aequus, meaning equal and nox, meaning night. However, even if this is widely accepted, it isn’t entirely true. In reality on the day of the September equinox, most places on Earth enjoy more than 12 hours of daylight on this day.
After this day the descent into winter brings hours of increasing darkness and chiller temperatures.
To astrologers this is the date on which the sun enters the sign of Libra, the scales, reflecting appropriately the balanced day and night of the equinox. This was also the time when the farmers brought in their harvested goods to be weighed and sold
The September equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from north to south and vice versa in March.
- The September equinox on or around September 22, while the first equinox of the year, the March equinox, takes p equinox place on or around March 21 every year. It marks the Southern Hemisphere’s autumnal, or fall, equinox and the Northern Hemisphere’s spring equinox.
- in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the autumnal equinox, which marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall (autumn). The fall season ends on December solstice, when astronomical winter begins.
- The September equinox is also known as the vernal or spring equinox in the Southern Hemisphere and is considered by astronomers as the first day of spring, the season of new beginnings
- Contrary to popular belief, equinoxes are no day-long events, but they occur at the exact moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s Equator.
- While the September equinox usually occurs on September 22 or 23, it can very rarely fall on September 21 or September 24. A September 21 equinox has not occurred since 1000 CE, but will happen twice in the 21st century – in 2092 and 2096. The last September 24 equinox occurred in 1931. It will next take place in 2303. .
The equinox dates vary because of the difference between how the Gregorian calendar defines a year (365 days) and the time it actually takes for the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun (about 365 and 1/4 days). This means that each September equinox occurs about 6 hours later than the previous year’s September Equinox. This eventually moves the date by a day. ( Remember that it was Pope Gregory XIII who was responsible for introducing our modern-day calendar)
- The full Moon closest to the September equinox, which is also known as Harvest Moon in the Northern Hemisphere, is astronomically special. This is because the time between one moonrise and another becomes shorter.
On average, the Moon rises about 50 minutes later every day in a lunar month .Around the Harvest Moon, the time difference between two successive moonrises decreases to about 30-40 minutes for a few days.
The Harvest Moon is also known as the Corn Moon, (after the corn harvest in the months of fall) : in the old days, the early moonrise for a few days around the equinox in the Northern Hemisphere meant that farmers could work and harvest their crops for a longer time in the evenings.
Celebrations Around the World
Many cultures and religions around the world hold feasts and celebrate festivals to mark the September equinox.
- At Stonehenge (as with the rest of rural Britain), it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at this time as these herbs help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships.
- At this time of the year, the ancient Celts conducted a mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure which represented the vegetation spirit. This might have been the origin of Julius Caesar’s comment in his Gallic Wars that the Druids performed human sacrifices. Although he never witnessed a human sacrifice and never met anyone who had, this story has been accepted and repeated often enough to be accepted as truth
- In many cultures, the September equinox is a sign of fall (autumn) in the northern hemisphere. In Greek mythology fall is associated with when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to be with her husband Hades. It was supposedly a good time to enact rituals for protection and security as well as reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.
- A famous ancient equinox celebration was the Mayan sacrificial ritual by the main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico. This pyramid, known as El Castillo, has 4 staircases running from the top to the bottom of its faces, for the bloody human sacrifices that used to take place here. The staircases are built at a carefully calculated angle which makes it look like an enormous snake of sunlight slithers down the stairs on the day of the equinox.
- In China the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is celebrated around the time of the September equinox. It celebrates the abundance of the summer’s harvest and one of the main foods is the mooncake filled with lotus, sesame seeds, a duck egg or dried fruit.
- In Japan, Higan is a week of Buddhist services observed during both the September and March equinoxes. Both equinoxes have been national holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912). Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana. It is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning and decorating their graves.
- At the South Pole they will be celebrating the first appearance of the sun in six months. However, at the North Pole they will be preparing for six months of darkness.
The Christian Church replaced many earlier Pagan solstices and equinox celebrations during Medieval times, with Christianized observances. For example, Michaelmas (also known as the Feast of Michael and All Angels), on September 29, fell near the September equinox “His feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened goose which had fed well on the stubble of the fields after the harvest. In many places, there was also a tradition of special large loaves of bread made only for that day. By Michaelmas the harvest had to be completed and the new cycle of farming would begin. It was a time for beginning new leases, rendering accounts and paying the annual dues.”
Other substitutions by the Church were:
- The spring equinox replaced y the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary held on March 25, on the nominal date of the spring equinox according to the old Julian calendar.
- The summer solstice, replaced by Midsummer Day, the feast of St. John the Baptist, celebrated on June 24.
- The winter solstice replaced by Christmas, on December 25