Opinion: Autumn Equinox: a brief history

Rachel Godin

Rachel Godin

Rachel Godin is a sophomore journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

At this time of year, the sun’s position to Earth creates the Autumnal equinox, marking the final harvest. The word equinox is derived from Latin, meaning equal night. According to National Geographic, “The autumnal equinox and vernal (spring) equinox are the only days of the year when a person standing on the Equator can see the sun passing directly overhead. A person at the North Pole would see the sun skimming across the horizon, signaling the start of six months of darkness. On the same day, a person at the South Pole would also see the sun skim the horizon, beginning six months of uninterrupted daylight.”

In the past, cultures placed heavy importance on the changing of seasons. One reason for this was that it took more effort to adapt because technology had not progressed to allow for reliable comforts. Also, agriculture was more of a community effort. Subpar seasonal harvests created hardship in following seasons. Since the beginning of time, all over the world, stories and celebrations have been created to explain the changes in nature, cherish the prosperity of the present and entertain the idea of deeper meaning behind earthy events. As we enter into the fifth day of 2013’s autumn equinox, let us reminisce not only on the warm memories of the past summer, but also a few historical examples of the coming season.

According to Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess intimately associated with the seasons. Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, and took her to the underworld. For nine days, Demeter looked near and far for her daughter, abandoned her duties of harvest, mourned and wore dark colors. The earth withered, animals died, and people began to starve. Hades would need to be convinced to give Persephone back to her mother or earth would perish. Hades agreed only to give Persephone back to her mother for half of the year. When Persephone returned to Demeter, Demeter wore bright clothing again, stopped mourning, and returned to her duties of bounty and harvest, creating spring and summer. When her daughter returns to the underworld, the world turns to autumn. Demeter goes into herself and neglects her duties. She wears all black, and earth begins to wither, creating winter.

Evidence of seasonal importance is cross-cultural. In Egyptian art, seasonal progression is symbolized by rows of reclining women. European writer John Keats embodied the fall season in poem “Ode to Autumn.” Autumn’s own moon—-Harvest Moon—-was made famous by Neil Young’s album titled “Harvest Moon.” In ancient Greece, Oschophoria festival celebrated the harvesting of grapes for wine. In the 1700s, the Bavarians celebrated Oktoberfest, which is still in existence today and is a time of feasting and merriment. China’s mid-autumn festival is celebrated on the night of the Harvest Moon and is a festival of honoring family unity.

Seasons are a time of contemplation. Humanity has consistently noted the importance of the passing of time and our mortal inability to slow it down. Winter causes many of us to retreat to our inner worlds, nursing our minds and bodies to combat the brutality of nature outdoors. It is important to remember this is part of the cycle, and after Dec. 21, the sun will start moving northward again, and spring will be on its way. Until then, Aurora Borealis’ colors are at their brightest and the changing color landscape seems to muse on the heat that has retreated until spring.