In case you missed it, it’s the second most wonderful time of the year: it’s fall! The official change of seasons occurred this year on Sept. 22, but are you informed of the intriguing history of the season?
While Sept. 22 is known to many as the transition from summer to fall, it is also known as the autumnal equinox. According to Live Science, on this date the sun is spinning on its axis at a 23.5 degree angle, which allows it to illuminate “equal amounts of light across the Northern Hemisphere.” This means that on this day, and in spring (which also has an equinox), day and night are about the same length, hence the term “equinox” which is from the Latin word “aequus” and, when translated, means “equal.” Although this may just be another seasonal change for us in North America, this date holds a different importance to other cultures.
In Greek mythology the autumn equinox occurs because Persephone returns to the underworld with Hades. For those of you not familiar with the story, Hades stole Persephone from her home and took her down into the Underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, prevented any and all vegetation from growing on the planet until her daughter was returned, according to Patricia Lantz, journalist for Atlanta Astrology Examiner. So Zeus sends Hermes down to retrieve Persephone. Hades, being the master of deceit, tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds, which means that she will one day have to return to the Underworld. Zeus decides that Persephone will live with Demeter one half of the year and Hades the other half.
How does this relate to the autumn equinox? When Persephone makes her return to the Underworld her mother once again is in mourning and does not tend to her crops, so the Earth begins to go barren, much like it does in autumn. When Persephone returns, this is the start of spring because Demeter is so happy that she provides the earth with crops.
In Chinese culture the traditional way of welcoming autumn is to celebrate the “Harvest Moon,” which is brighter and fuller on the days surrounding the equinox; this is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival. Travel China Guide says that the people of China will offer “sacrifice” to the moon, while appreciating its fullness and enjoying moon cakes. There is a Chinese folktale that says they celebrate the autumn moon because of Chang’E, the moon goddess. It is thought that Chang’E protected her husband’s elixir by digesting it herself and fleeing to the moon.
While in America there is no tradition or urban legend to the changing of the seasons, autumn is warmly welcomed because of the beauty that nature unveils at this time of year. The change in color of leaves is one of the most refreshing and captivating parts of fall, but what is the science behind the transformation in the colors? Due to the shortening of days, leaves are less exposed to sunlight. Because of this they stop producing chlorophyll, which is what keeps the leaves green. When the green makes its exit the oranges and reds and yellows make their entrance through the chemicals carotenoid and anthocyanin.
It’s also “aurora season” this time of year. According to NASA geomagnetic storms, also called the Northern Lights, are twice as frequent in the fall; however, they are also more frequent in the cooler Northern parts of North America due to their long periods of darkness and frequency of clear skies at night.
So get out there and appreciate all that fall has to offer before it slips away.