At the time of the autumn equinox, there are equal hours of light and dark. It is a time of balance, and while summer is ending, the winter is approaching. This is a season in which farmers are harvesting their fall crops, gardens are beginning to die, and the earth gets a bit cooler each day. Let's look at some of the ways that this second harvest holiday has been honored around the world for centuries.
- In China, the moon's birthday falls around the time of the autumn equinox. Special holiday birthday cakes are baked with flour from harvested rice, and families gather together to honor the moon. It is believed that flowers will fall from the sky on the night of the moon's birthday, and those who saw them fall would be blessed with great abundance.
- Many English counties still observe Michaelmas, which is the feast of St. Michael, on September 29. Customs included the preparation of a meal of goose which had been fed on the stubble of the fields following the harvest (called a stubble-goose). There was also a tradition of preparing special larger-than-usual loaves of bread, and St. Michael's bannocks, which was a special kind of oatcake.
- Long before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World, the Native peoples of North America celebrated the harvest with thanksgiving festivals in the autumn. This typically included lots of meat and grains to eat. Games and activities were held, and it was also useful as a time of matchmaking between neighboring villages.
- In some Germanic countries, people worried about the fate of their grain harvest. If there was a great deal of wind during the harvesting season, it could be because Odin wanted a share of the crop. To keep him happy, a few spare sacks of flour were emptied into the wind.
- The Yoruba people of Nigeria had a celebration in October to celebrate the yam harvest. Dances were held to honor the ancestors, and to bid farewell to those who might have died in the past year. Yams were offered to dancers in hopes that a fertile crop would appear next year. Interestingly, studies have shown that women who consume a lot of yams (real African yams, not sweet potatoes) are statistically more likely to conceive twins, so there is certainly a link between yams and fertility symbolism!
- The Iroquois people celebrated a Corn Dance each fall. This was a way to give thanks for the ripening of the grain -- songs, dances and drumming were part of the celebration. Naturally, food played an important part as well, including corn bread and soup.
- For the ancient Druids, the fall equinox was Alban Elfed. Many contemporary Druids celebrate this as at time of balance and thanksgiving.