This coming Friday morning before school, like many parents in England and Wales, I shall be rummaging around my kitchen looking for three suitable items for each of my children to take to their school’s harvest festival. Last year there seemed to be a competition between the children as to who could take the largest squash-type vegetable, which resulted in some very small children with some exceedingly large vegetables struggling up the hill to Church. This year there is going to be three tins from my family: not too heavy, won’t result in a big mess and lots of tears if dropped and easy for small hands to carry.
At two minutes past nine o’clock at night GMT on Friday 22 September, when most of the people at the harvest festival earlier in the day will be fast asleep in bed, it is the Autumn Equinox. The Earth hits the turning point in its orbit when neither of its poles are tilted towards the Sun; day and night are the same length, hence equinox, meaning equal night (I know it’s right because I’ve looked it up). It is the end of Summer and many cultures have celebrated this for thousands of years and continue to celebrate, joining together in that brief moment of balance to give thanks for the harvest and to share its bounty before the coming Winter.
In Ancient Greece Hades took Persephone into the underworld each year to trigger the start of Winter. In China they have the Moon Festival to celebrate the harvest, and from what I can gather it is an opportunity to stuff yourself with moon cakes, which I hear are quite delicious. Pagans call this time of year, Mabon. There seems to be some debate about where this name originates from – in Welsh Folklore there was a Mabon ap Modron, the son of Modron, the Earth Mother goddess, who features in the Arthurian legends as Uther Pendragon’s loyal servant and a follower of King Arthur. There was also a female Cornish Saint named Mabyn. Her festival is on 18 November which is half way between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. I also assume that there will also be a number of Druids at Stonehenge on Friday night celebrating the setting of the Summer sun for another year.
In England we have been picking blackberries and apples like mad and have started stuffing them into pies and crumbles. I am thrilled to announce that custard is once again a regular feature on the pudding menu. Some people are making cider ready for wassailing later in the Winter. Children pester their parents to stick holes and string through conkers so they can have competitions. My son wanted to chop some conkers up for deer food. I counselled against this as unwise, but what do I know? He cut his thumb and we went to A&E. I thought the cut was deep, and the doctor (who admittedly who works from an entirely different brief as to what constitutes a bad injury) declared it not to be the case as the top of his finger was still attached….moving on…..leaves fall, animals prepare for hibernation….everything gets ready to go to sleep. Except for the humans. The humans have to stay awake all Winter.
As the days shorten, daylight becomes less. We’ve all heard of SAD syndrome, which can make Winter a real struggle for some people. Now the ideal solution to this would be to book a sunshine holiday. However, funds and annual leave allowances may not allow this, certainly not for three months every year and particularly with the C word coming up in December. There has been much talk and publicity about getting hygge – snuggling up with your family and friends, furry or otherwise. I think we should get behind that. Let’s all do more of that. It doesn’t cost anything and at the end of the day, why else are we here? To be rich? To be famous? Or to love and be loved? One of the things we can all celebrate on Friday when the Earth shifts into that brief state of equilibrium is that in our tiny corner of the World, however dark the days themselves may be in the coming Winter, we are warm and we are fed, which are already two more blessings than most of the people who share our planet.