“Equal” and “night,” in their Latin forms, give us the word “equinox.” Today we enter the darker half of the year. Interestingly, of the so-called “quarter days”—the equinoxes and solstices—this is the only one for which we have no ancient indications of celebration. Like a birthday that goes by unnoticed, this feels odd. Why, among the set of only four days—longest, shortest, and two equal—did this one fail to be noticed? Well, perhaps noticed, but not celebrated? The failure of ancient records may be one explanation, and perhaps other, near dates of note subsumed it. In Judaism, for instance, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come around this time. The ancient Celts celebrated August 1 and November 1, or thereabouts. September is a particularly busy time.
Harvesting, in many places, gets its real start in September. In more modern times, school starts up again. Work schedules once more take priority and those “relaxed” summer hours are a thing of the past. It’s easy to overlook this seemingly insignificant day. It is important nonetheless. For those of us who watch horror, it’s now more easily explained—it’s darker and that brings on one of the most primal of fears. Halloween is coming, and if you haven’t prepared already, discounted pricing on picked-over merchandise will begin in coming days. More and more houses will prepare for the haunted season. Around here leaves are just beginning to change, but in more northern latitudes they’re well on their way already. Pumpkins are already on hand at grocery stores and farm stands. The days of summer sweet corn are over.
Not all holidays receive equal attention, of course. Less romantically inclined adults simply work through Valentines Day. And who even notices May Day anymore? If you don’t spend money on holidays they don’t seem to count. Who goes out and buys things for the forgotten autumnal equinox? Nevertheless, many people say that fall is their favorite time of year. It has a trickster element to it. You awake and have to throw on some extra layers, but by mid-afternoon short sleeves may be sufficient. Hurricanes may come ashore. Some days will feel like winter, and others summer. Transitions are like that. The autumnal equinox signals the inevitability of winter but also the yearning and melancholy of the shortening days when color springs to light once again. Forgotten or not, today is the harbinger of things to come.