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Falling into autumn and its celebrations
An English rose in Georgia
Lesley Francis - SBF
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. - photo by File photo

Welcome to fall. Unbelievably, today sees the arrival of October and we are over a week past the autumnal equinox which, in our part of the world, was on Sept. 23 at 4:22 a.m. There are two equinoxes every year — in September and March — when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is the same length — 12 hours — all over the world. The word “equinox” comes from Latin, meaning “equal night.”

According to, the September equinox occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator — the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s Equator — from north to south and it always takes place between Sept. 22-24. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere this time is called the spring equinox, as the seasons are reversed on either side of the equator. I remember getting very confused as a young child when I heard about Australia enjoying summer as we froze in our wet English winter. I simply could not get my head around it and assumed in my child-like way that Australians were six months behind us in the calendar, and I felt sorry for them since I thought they would have to wait six months longer than me for Christmas!

There are some interesting historical traditions from around the world associated with the September equinox:

• In ancient times, pagans celebrated Mabon as one of their eight annual celebrations based on the cycles of the sun. This sabbat (or religious festival) celebrated their second harvest and the start of inter preparations.  

• In ancient Greece, this equinox had a number of rituals focused on protection and security, as well as reflecting on successes or failures of the previous months. In Greek mythology, fall was associated with the goddess Persephone, and her return to the underworld to be with her husband Hades.

• The Christian church replaced many early Pagan equinox celebrations. Michaelmas (also known as the Feast of Michael and All Angels) falls on Sept. 29. During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was a great religious feast and many popular traditions grew up around the day, which coincided with the harvest in much of Western Europe. In Britain, it was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, which might help in protecting against financial need for the upcoming year. Today, of course, many Christian churches still enjoy a service of thanksgiving at Harvest Festival.

• The Chinese celebrate the Moon Festival at this time, giving thanks for the abundant summer harvest. They enjoy mooncakes filled with lotus, sesame seeds, a duck egg or dried fruit.

• The Japanese observe a national holiday known as Higan which is a week of Buddhist services. Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana. It is a time for the Japanese to remember those past by visiting, cleaning and decorating their graves.

Having grown up in Britain, I still find it hard to refer to autumn as fall when describing the season between summer and winter. The modern British rarely use the word fall in this way, although they now understand the meaning of the word, thanks to the popularity of American movies and TV shows.  However, according to, “fall” actually started as an old English word used to describe autumn and dates back to the 16th century. It was originally short for “fall of the year” or “fall of the leaf,” and was used by the original English settlers in America.  

I know this season is a favorite for many people — they associate it with crisper weather, fun activities and new beginnings (probably originating from the academic year traditionally starting in the fall) but I always mourn the passing of summer.  Going forward, I will try to take on board the lesson from this quote by American outdoors author and journalist, Hal Borland: “Summer ends, and autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.”

God bless America!

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