The Autumnal Equinox occurs on or around the 21st and 22nd September in the northern hemisphere each year, and marks the point at which day and night are at equal length (i.e. around 12 hours each).
The word “equinox” comes from the Latin for “equal night” and reflects this equal division. The reason for this is due to the angle of the Earth’s axis, which is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to its orbital plane. As the Earth orbits the sun, the two hemispheres tilt closer or further from the sun, causing the seasons on Earth to change.
An equinox, National Geographic says, is “a geometrical alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned right above our planet’s equator. On these days, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience roughly equal amounts of sunshine. It’s also only on the spring and autumn equinoxes that the sun rises due east and sets due west”.
From this point on, the days will be shorter than the nights as we enter the dark time of the year, leading to the shortest day at the Winter Solstice. The weather also changes, becoming cooler and more Autumnal, with the leaves turning golden and falling from the trees, the “second harvest” of apples, berries and sloes ripening and the creatures gathering food stores for the winter to come.
The name for the Autumnal Equinox in the Druid tradition is Alban Elfed or Alban Elued, meaning “the Light of the Waters”. As the festival is situated in the West, the place of water, on the Wheel of the Year, and Autumn tends to be a very wet and rainy season in Britain, the name seems fitting. The OBOD website says: “The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light”. It is a festival for celebrating the harvest and for preparing for the darker days ahead.
This is a good time of year to make fruit crumbles, elderflower cordial, and warming vegetable stews, go on long walks through the crunchy leaves and enjoy the last warmth as late Summer transitions into Autumn’s cool crispness. It’s also a good time to tidy up the garden before Winter, and sow wildflower seeds to bloom in Spring.