The first day of fall, or the autumnal equinox, is Saturday, September 22 in the Northern Hemisphere. On this day, the sun hovers above the equator, and most of the world enjoys nearly equal amounts of light and darkness. In traditional agricultural societies, the harvest season was drawing to a close, and people were working overtime to prepare stores for the winter months. The equinox was a time to relax, celebrate, and enjoy the bounty of the harvest, while people anticipated the scarcity or monotony of their winter diet. In modern times, autumn is a time for new beginnings – a new school year, new clothes, new friends, a new outlook.
Cultures around the world celebrate the first day of fall.
Asian Moon Festivals
Asians have been celebrating the equinox with Moon Festivals, or Mid-Autumn Festivals, for 3000 years. In China, families and friends gather to admire the mid-autumn harvest moon, light lanterns, burn incense, and plant trees. They prepare mooncakes – a noodle-like dough filled with bean or lotus seed paste and duck egg yolks or other fillings, which are then steamed, baked, or fried.
Japanese Autumnal Equinox Day
In Japan, the fall equinox is a national holiday. The seven days starting three days before the equinox until three days after is known as Higan. The Japanese spend Higan holding family reunions and visiting family graves, offering flowers, cleaning tombstones, burning incense, and praying. Ohagi, sticky rice covered with adzuki-bean paste or soybean flour, is a popular offering to the deceased.
Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday that falls on the first and second day of the month of Tishri on the Jewish calendar – usually between September 5 and October 5 on our calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the “day of judgment” in the Torah. Observers abstain from work and spend the day in the synagogue. A shofar (ram’s horn) is blown many times to awaken listeners to the coming judgment. People reflect on mistakes made in the last year and plan changes for the new year. Many observers also practice Tashlikh, or “casting off” on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. They fill their pockets with pieces of bread, walk to a natural body of water, and empty the bread into the water, symbolically casting off the previous year’s sins. Apples or bread dipped in honey is common Rosh Hashanah fare.
Native American Harvest Ceremonies
Many tribes once celebrated the end of the harvest with equinox ceremonies. The Cherokee gave thanks to all living things at a Nuwati Egwa festival and the Chumash of southern California held a sun ceremony at the end of September. The Miwok of Northern California still celebrate the acorn harvest with a Big Time Festival on the last weekend of September. Traditionally, the Miwok relied on the acorn for food. In the fall, they harvested the fruits, cracked them, ground the meat into meal, rinsed the meal to remove its bitter tannins, and made acorn mush, bread, or soap. At modern Big Time festivals, Miwok and other California tribes perform traditional dances, play hand games, and tell stories.The first day of fall is almost here. Try these 9 simple (and free) ways to celebrate the changing seasons.Click To Tweet
Create some autumn traditions
Seasonal celebrations can be fun and simple. Why not pick some activities you enjoy to celebrate the first day of fall? Here are a few ideas:
- Make a seasonal display
Include leaves, ornamental corn, gourds, jack-o-lanterns, acorns, pine cones, or whatever symbolizes fall in your family.
- Read books about fall
The library is an excellent place to find books about the season. Fall picture-books include: Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White; Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert; Autumn is for Apples by Michelle Knudsen; Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell; Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelly; and It’s Fall! by Linda Glaser. The Autumn Equinox by Ellen Jackson is a fun book to read aloud this time of year. Adults can celebrate fall’s cooler weather by grabbing an anticipated fall release.
- Make Chinese lanterns
- Visit a local orchard
Pick apples, and make apple cider, sauce, or pie.
- Prepare a harvest feast
Invite friends over and make foods from your garden or the farmer’s market. Traditional autumn foods include: pears, squash, pumpkin, apples, stews, and mulled ciders. Pumpkin bread is a delicious fall treat, and if you use this real-food recipe, it’s healthy too.
- Tell stories
Bring a pile of blankets out to the porch, yard, or park and share stories about your best or worst back-to-school memories.
- Go on a nature hike
What better way to enjoy the crisp air and colorful leaves?
- Talk about balance
Day and night are equal, so it’s the perfect time to talk, as a family, about the importance of balance and how to create more of it in our lives.
- Star gaze
After the sun sets, grab a pair of binoculars, cuddle under blankets, and look for constellations. Taurus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, and Ursa Minor reappear in the night sky around the equinox.
No matter how you celebrate, I hope you a have a happy first day of fall.
If you liked this post, you may enjoy these related posts:
- Apples are Fall Superfoods
- Local, Seasonal Foods are Superfoods
- Why You Should Sync Your Schedule with the Seasons
- Finding Wildness
- 6 Fun Things To Do on a Cold Dark Night
(Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a post originally published September 15, 2010)
Are you planning to celebrate the first day of fall this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!