Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Stuff to Do and Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

I love this time of year.  The trees are ablaze, pumpkins are calling me to carve them, and the air is crisp with chilly breezes with the promise of transitions to come.  Also known as Mabon, the autumnal equinox is a special time of year that represents a lot of potential change.  It’s also a celebrated time of year that deals with hefty themes such as: Harvest, Balance, Reflection, Gratitude and so much more.  In the spirit of sharing and caring, I thought it might be keen to share some tips and ideas for stuff to do and make celebrating the autumnal equinox (also known as Mabon) a truly profound experience.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

What is Mabon, and What Does it Have to Do With the Autumnal Equinox?

Mabon is actually the name of the ancient Celtic sun god.  In early folk or pagan traditions, the god Mabon was said to get into an epic wrestling match with the Celtic god of darkness known as Arawn (in some Celtic myths, the god of darkness is also known as Donn). This titanic battle represents the struggle between light and dark that is seen during the autumnal equinox.

Whether you call it Mabon or the autumnal equinox, this time of year (around September 21 – 23 depending upon the year) marks the halfway point between the shortest and longest days of the year.  As you might imagine, this beautiful balance between light and dark demarcated with this holy day is all about balance and transition.  It’s also about embracing new changes upcoming in our lives and environment.

Noteworthy Celebrations and Events Associated With the Autumnal Equinox

The ancient and holy day of Mabon isn’t the only celebration aligned with the autumnal equinox.  In fact, this time of year is celebrated in many different ways by many different cultures.  Here are a few cultural traditions that acknowledge this equinox.  Also, understanding how other ancient cultures celebrated this time of year is a great way to plan for stuff to do during the autumnal equinox.

Festival of Dionysus

Also known as Dionysia, this was a massive party that took place in Athens during the equinox to celebrate the god Dionysus.  Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) was renowned in ancient Greece as the god of winemaking, merriment, fertility, grape-harvesting, and all-around good party times (almost to the point of beyond crazy).  As you might imagine, the festival of Dionysus this time of year was all about celebrating the fruits of harvest (usually in the form of imbibing a ton of wine).  The festival was not only meant to show gratitude for good harvest, it was also a time to liberate partygoers from the mundane and conformity of citizenship often implied during this era of human history.

Hailing Herne the Hunter

Herne is a heralded hunter in old British folklore.  He was celebrated with lots of drinking, merrymaking, and partying during this time of year.  The reason for this is that the autumnal equinox marks the beginning of hunting season (particularly deer) for this area of the world.  Celebrations in Herne’s honor were a way to bless a good hunt (when a deer on the table meant a significant coup for feeding a family during a tough winter).

Feast of Archangel Michael

As Christianity continued to absorb a lot of pagan celebrations and rituals, the pagan population began to mesh their old ways with Christian concepts such as angels, scripture, prayer, etc.  For instance, we can trace back the Feast of Archangel Michael during Medieval times, in which pagans and peasants started honoring the angel during the autumnal equinox.  The feast (also known as Michaelmas, celebrated on September 29th) involved preparing typical dishes such as mutton pies or roast goose.  Daisies or asters were strewn around statues of Archangel Michael as a way to give thanks as well as receive blessings.  These flowers were likely chosen because they were really the only blooms hanging about this time of year.

Native American Corn Dances

Corn is sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Iroquois.  During the autumnal equinox, the Iroquois would gather together to perform the dazzling Corn Dance to celebrate a bodacious bumper crop of corn that was harvested around this time of year.  Interestingly, there are other corn dances (often referred to as Green Corn Dances) performed by southern tribes during the summer solstice (in June). There’s also another Corn Dance celebrated in May by the Pueblo people.  Regardless of the time of year, all of these corn dances are meant to honor and give thanks to corn, a hugely important staple for Native Americans across North America.

Yam Festival

The Yoruba people of Nigeria have a long-held tradition of celebrating yams (a major crop and source of nourishment for the people of this area) around this time of year.  While the festival might not land at the autumnal equinox (it’s in October), it’s noteworthy because it is yet another joyful time to show gratitude for the abundance provided by nature and associated deities.

Symbols Associated With the Autumnal Equinox

You know me, and if you know anything about this website – I’m all about symbols and symbolic meanings.  So, there’s no way I could let this special time of year pass without sharing some of the prime symbols germane to this important day of the year. Here are a few symbols from the natural realm associated with Mabon and the autumnal equinox.

Dualistic Creatures

Because the autumnal equinox is all about balancing the light and dark, this time of years is associated with dualistic animals who do the same.  So, we’re talking about creatures who have an element of liminality – meaning transitional, or at least capable of functioning fully in both light and dark.  For instance, the bear.  The bear is a symbol of the autumnal equinox for its ability to shine brightly and thrive in the light, while also slumbering in comfort during the dark, cold winter months.  The owl is also a symbol of the equinox because of its ability to deftly move through darkness, while also being stable and productive while caring for their young in the daytime.

Harvest Symbols

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

I’ve touched on a few prime harvests that are celebrated this time of year.  Aside from grapes and corn, there are other gifts from the earth that have a place of honor during Mabon/autumnal equinox.  These praised fruits of labor this time of year include: Grain, squash, pumpkins, pomegranates, and apples.  All of these beauties have symbolic meaning, but it’s important to note that pomegranates and apples specifically are symbolic of fertility – something that is consistently recognized among numerous cultures during this time of year.  

Flowers of the Equinox

I mentioned earlier that asters or daisies are plucked and gathered during the Feast of Archangel Michael, and therefore, they are a strong symbol of the autumnal equinox. Asters are symbolic of life-affirming themes such as connection, wisdom, beauty, love, and faith.  The morning glory is also a celebrated bloom this time of year because it often blooms in various parts of the northern hemisphere.  It’s also the 11th wedding anniversary.  Morning glories symbolize unification and connection with partners, friends and family.  They are also symbolic of gathering together to appreciate the bonds we share.  Seems pretty fitting for this time of year!

Stuff to Do and Ways to Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox

Whether you celebrate this time of year in the form of a Corn Dance, Mabon, or Michaelmas, there are certain rituals, traditions, or activities that can broaden this slice of time for you.  What’s key here is that we adopt an attitude of gratitude for all we have received.  It’s also important to acknowledge the blessings yet to come in our future.  Here are a few ideas to do just that during the flowing days of the autumnal equinox.

Have a Candle Party

As mentioned, this noteworthy time during a transitional season is all about balancing light and dark.  What better way to do that than to light candles.  You could throw a candle party with friends or family.  Or, you could opt to light your world with candles during a meditation session while you dive deeply into your psyche and give thanks for all that has transpired, and all that is yet to unfold in your life.

Go Apple Picking (and do stuff with those plump beauties!)

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Apples have long been held as a symbol of fertility.  As such, going apple picking is an outstanding way to celebrate the equinox while also acknowledging the abundance and blessing in our lives.  You can take your apple picking another step further by making crafts out of them (such as shrunken apple heads – so much fun!). Or, you can make your own yummy homemade goods such as, apple cider, apple jelly, apple butter, apple pies, dried apple rings – at the risk of sounding like a scene from Forrest Gump (instead of shrimp, I keep on listing off all the neat ways you can reinvent apples) – you get the idea – there are tons of crafts and rituals you can do with apples to celebrate the change of seasons.

Invent Your Own Feast

Our ancestors did it, why not you?  Organize a fabulous spread for friends, neighbors and family.  Include a bonfire to get that element of light and dark in the mix.  Serve dishes that incorporate the symbolic produce of the season such as corn, pumpkins, pomegranates, apples, etc.  Have a diverse wine-tasting at your party to celebrate Dionysus.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mabon and the autumnal equinox than to pitch a rousing party for loved ones that embrace and incorporate all the lovely traditions through history that have made this time of year a truly sparkling event.

Closing Thoughts About Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

I think the most profound beauty of this time of year is that it’s all about transition, balance, evolution, grace, gratitude – shall I go on?  It’s also about embracing the chaos of a transitional season.  In my mind, this means there are no holds barred when it comes to celebrating the autumnal equinox. Be bold. Create your own ceremonies, traditions, or rituals for the pivotal time of year.  Whatever you do, please try to be grateful, be safe, and by all means – have fun!  As always, thank you for reading!

Mighty brightly,

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