When Is The First Day of Fall in 2021?
The first day of fall in 2021 arrives on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, at 3:21 p.m. EDT.
What Is The Fall Equinox?
In mid-September each year, we greet the fall season with the arrival of the fall equinox (otherwise known as the autumnal equinox). This is the moment when the Sun crosses the Equator, and those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere will begin to see more darkness than daylight. Regardless of whether it has been chilly for weeks or there are still balmy summer-like temperatures, this is the start of astronomical fall. This is different from “meteorological fall,” which began on September 1st.
At this point, the Earth’s tilt is moving away from its maximum lean toward the Sun; its rays are aiming directly at the equator.
The autumnal (fall) equinox marks the turning point when darkness begins to win out over daylight. Essentially, our hours of daylight—the period of time each day between sunrise and sunset—have been growing slightly shorter each day since the summer solstice in June, which is the longest day of the year (at least in terms of daylight). Then, for the next three months, our hours of daylight will continue to grow shorter.
At the autumnal equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. The name equinox comes from the Latin word aequus, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night. An equinox occurs twice a year (autumnal and vernal, or fall and spring).
Changes Are Coming
Everywhere you look, you can see the visible changes as nature prepares for winter: birds are flying south, temperatures are getting cooler, leaves are changing colors, and animals’ coats are thickening, to name a few. But most significant is the change in daylight.
In mid-December, we will experience the winter solstice, which will mark the shortest day of the year in terms of hours of daylight.
After the winter solstice, the days will begin to grow longer again. It will take another three months until the vernal equinox (also called the spring equinox) for the periods of daylight and darkness to reach equilibrium once again.
From the vernal equinox, the days will continue to grow longer, until we reach the summer solstice again, and the whole cycle begins anew!
Equinox Traditions and Celebrations You Probably Didn’t Know About
All over the world—and throughout history—you’ll find a variety of traditions and celebrations to welcome the autumn season and harvest time (Oktoberfest, anyone?). Here are some other celebrations associated with autumn you might not be familiar with.
Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals that take place in the pagan “Wheel of the Year.” This “Second Harvest” is when farmers gathered foods like gourds, pumpkins, grapes, and apples. It’s a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness. It is known as the “pagan thanksgiving,” and is celebrated by gathering friends and family for a feast, decorating your home with autumn colors, and going apple picking. Symbols associated with Mabon include the cornucopia (horn of plenty) and pinecones.
See The Snake of Sunlight in Mexico
Additionally, the Mayan temple at Chichén Itzá in Mexico, known as El Castillo, is dedicated to a serpent god. During the fall equinox, people gather to see the “snake of sunlight”—at the precise moment the equinox arrives, it appears as if a snake made of sunlight slithers down the temple steps.
Enjoy Mooncakes To Celebrate Harvest Time
People in Asian cultures celebrate the autumn equinox as the “Mid-Autumn Festival” or Moon Festival. These celebrations are all about celebrating the bountiful harvest and the Harvest Moon. People often give mooncakes, round pastries filled with assorted fillings, to friends and neighbors. Learn more about mooncakes here!
In Japan, the Buddhist celebration known as Higan or Higan-e happens during the week of both the spring and fall equinoxes. These celebrations are significant because, at the moment of the equinox, the sun sets exactly at due west—and Japanese Buddhists believe the afterlife is located westward. To honor the dead, people visit the graves of ancestors and loved ones, cleaning them and bringing decorations. It’s also a traditional time to visit relatives and to meditate.
Ways You Can Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox
You can always take a trip to Stonehenge or Chichén Itzá to watch the sunrise on the equinox, but if you’d rather stay closer to home, there are plenty of other ways to recognize this solar event. Watch the sunrise from your own backyard, or take a cue from other cultures by making mooncakes or visiting the graves of loved ones.
- Host a harvest potluck and have all your gardening friends bring something fresh from their backyards.
- Practice meditation or do yoga at sunrise to mark the occasion and get a fresh start for the day.
- Clean your home—but don’t approach it like a chore! Do the job mindfully, with the idea that you’re restoring balance, order, and peace to your living spaces ahead of winter.
- Go for a walk and reconnect with nature.
- Go foraging! During the early fall weeks, you’re bound to find wild berries, flowers to pick, cattails, interesting greenery, and whatever else you might want to eat or use to decorate your home.
Whatever you do for the equinox, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. Many relish the small, simple acts, such as taking a moment to reflect on the summer gone by—a nice way to mark the change of seasons, too.
Autumn Weather Lore
There are many weather lore sayings for the autumn season. Have you heard any of these?
A pleasant autumn and a mild winter will cause the leaves to fall next September.
As the wind and weather is at the time of the equinox, so will be the wind and weather generally during the following three months.
Do you (or will you) celebrate the autumnal equinox any special way this year?