Autumn equinox: 7 curiosities you did not know about

Autumn equinox: 7 curiosities you cannot miss

L’autumn equinox definitely marks the end of the summer: with the arrival of September and the consequent drop in temperatures, the hot season passes the baton to a period of colors, milder weather and shorter days. However, that of the autumnal equinox is not only a astronomical phenomenon, as over the centuries it has been associated with traditions, millenary customs, beliefs and religious rituals. But what is meant by the autumnal equinox, when it falls in 2021 and, above all, what recurrences are celebrated in Italy?

The transition between summer and autumn has fascinated man since ancient times, also because it represented a period of wealth. After the hardships of the summer to cultivate the fields, it was in fact time to enjoy the rich fruits of your harvest. Below, all the useful information on the astronomical phenomenon, its main celebrations and, above all, 7 incredible curiosities.

What is the autumn equinox?

From the astronomical point of view, the autumn equinox is a phenomenon due to the revolution motion of the Terra around the Sole. In two well-defined moments of the year – that is, in spring and autumn – our star is at the zenith of the equator: this unique position allows the sun’s rays to strike the planet in a perfectly perpendicular way.

Due to the relative position of the Sun with respect to the earth, one occurs during the equinoxes particular circumstance: day and night have the same duration. Not surprisingly, even the name itself suggests it: equinox comes from the Latin “night-horse“, Or” night equal “to the day.

This phenomenon occurs twice a year: in spring, with the transition from winter to the milder season, and in autumn, with the end of the sultry heat and the beginning of a colder period.

What are the differences between equinox and solstice

Autumn sun

The equinoxes are not the only astronomical phenomena involving the Sun and the Earth, during the year they also occur solstice. As a result, every year we will have two equinoxes – one in autumn and one in summer – two solstices, in winter and in summer. But what is their difference?

From an astronomical point of view, these different conditions occur:

  • Equinox: the Sun is at the zenith with respect to the Earth, this determines a solar spraying with rays perfectly perpendicular to the Equator;
  • Solstice: the Sun is at its maximum or minimum angle away from the Equator.

As already mentioned, during the equinoxes the length of day and night is perfectly identical. On the occasion of the spring one, the days will then gradually begin to lengthen. In conjunction with the autumn one, the days will instead begin to shorten.

However, it is worth remembering that equinoxes and solstices do not have the same effects on the planet. The phenomena are in fact reversed between Boreal Emisphere ed southern hemisphere: when the autumn equinox occurs in the north of the planet, the spring equinox occurs in the south, and vice versa. The same is also true for the solstices.

When does the autumn equinox fall in 2021?

Autumn equinox

For tradition and convenience, it is customary to celebrate the autumn equinoxes on 21 September, or when the calendar gives way to the next season. In reality, the date can vary from year to year, with a time frame from 20 to 22 September.

For 2021, the autumn equinox is expected 22 September at 19:21 UTC, corresponding to 20.21 of the Italian time zone. But where does this variability come from? Everything is due to the Gregorian calendar.

The Gregorian year and the solar year are not perfectly identical: the Earth takes 365 days and 6 hours to complete its motion around the Sun. This gap of about six hours is recovered at the calendar level with the introduction of leap years, that is, with one more day in February every four years. Precisely this variation obviously also determines the postponement or advancement of the equinoxes at the calendar level: this is why they can happen from 20 to 22 September.

And when will the next appointments be?

  • Winter solstice 2021: December 21st at 15.59 UTC;
  • Spring equinox 2022: March 20 at 9.37 UTC;
  • Summer solstice 2022: June 21st at 3.32 UTC;
  • Autumn Equinox 2022: September 23 at 1.04 UTC.

How are the equinoxes calculated?

It is natural to ask how the equinoxes are calculated, how to establish a priori when these astronomical phenomena will occur exactly. This is a fairly complex operation, which requires a certain experience on the astronomy front: in short, the positions of the Sun and the Earth are predicted at any given moment, the reference latitude, the Earth’s motion around the Sun is verified. and the inclination between the two stars. Thanks to these considerations, it is possible to obtain an extremely reliable forecast of when the equinox will occur.

Autumn equinox: traditions and curiosities


Going beyond the more exquisitely astronomical explanation, the autumn equinox has always represented a moment of great fascination and celebration for man, since ancient times. On the other hand, pre-Columbian civilizations had already developed the ability to carefully observe the stars and had noticed precisely these two annual moments where day and night had the same duration.

Generally speaking, almost all ancient civilizations associated the autumn equinox with a moment of calm and wealth: after the hard work in the summer fields, it was time to enjoy the harvest. Not surprisingly, the autumnal equinox is often represented with a cornucopia: that is a cup where fruit, vegetables and other delicacies flow seamlessly. Not only positive elements, however, but also apprehension: the autumn equinox also marks the return of the cold and the shortening of the days, thus preparing for a difficult period.

Pre-Columbian civilization

Pyramids in Kukulkan

As already mentioned, the pre-Columbian civilization they had developed a great attention to the study of the stars and, in addition to knowing the constellations perfectly, they had learned to distinguish equinoxes and solstices. Not surprisingly, the pyramids Maya it is assumed that they were also used for observation of the sky, given their privileged position.

And it is precisely the Mayan culture that made the autumnal equinox a truly important moment. During this anniversary, some of the gods were believed to come down to Earth, both to usher in the harvest season and to warn humans about the start of the cold season. And so the people gave the gods the best fruits of the harvest, flowers, animals and other types of sacrifices.

Particular is the tradition linked to the god Kukulkàn, or “the feathered serpent”. At the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan, during the equinoxes a play of shadows forms on the pyramid of Kukulkàn: a profile that looks just like a snake. Even today, the site attracts thousands of people during this astronomical passage.

Greek and Roman civilizations

Even the Greek and Roman civilizations they celebrated the equinoxes, with meanings not too different from the then very distant – and unknown – pre-Columbian populations.

For the Greeks, the month of September represented a period of celebration, so much so that the most important annual anniversaries were celebrated precisely in this period. Coinciding with the equinox, the mystery Eleusis, dedicated to the descent of Persephone in the Underworld. A moment to emphasize the eternal alternation between light and dark, between life and death, precisely in relation to the progressive shortening of the days.

The Romans also celebrated similar myths and, starting from 63 BC, this date has taken on more significance, as it is concomitant with the birth of theemperor Augustus. Huge city festivals were organized, including lucullian lunches and liters of wine, with offers of fruit and vegetables at the Ara Pacis.

Nordic civilizations, Stonehenge and Freemasonry


The Nordic and Celtic civilizations celebrated Mabon during the autumnal equinox: the young man god of crops. Son of the mother goddess Modron, he was kidnapped after his birth and then freed by King Arthur. Symbol of water – so much so that it is represented as a river – underlines the abundance of autumn harvests, the consumption of products sown with so much effort, enrichment before the harsh winter.

Speaking of Nordic civilizations, one cannot fail to mention Stonehenge, the great archaeological site of Great Britain. The history of these huge monoliths, arranged in a circle, is still shrouded in mystery. But it certainly has to do with equinoxes and solstices since, during these astronomical phenomena, the light perfectly crosses the cracks, giving a unique spectacle of its kind. Even today, Stonehenge is the destination of thousands of tourists precisely in conjunction with the solstices and equinoxes.

For the Masonryfinally, the autumn equinox corresponds with the force of Libra and the resumption of spiritual work, while the spring equinox indicates the real beginning of the Masonic year.

7 curiosities to know about the autumn equinox

  1. When the autumnal equinox occurs in the northern hemisphere, those in the southern hemisphere call it the spring equinox.
  2. During the equinoxes, day and night are the same all over the world. The equinox occurs at the same time regardless of where you are.
  3. Days shorten after the autumn equinox and continue to shorten until the winter solstice in December. The shortest day of the year.
  4. In astrology, the autumn equinox marks the moment when the sun enters the sign of Libra, which represents balance.
  5. The full moon that falls near the autumn equinox is referred to as the harvest moon. It is said to be so bright that it allows farmers to work late in the fields.
  6. The autumn equinox is celebrated in China in a festival known as the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival, where there is a great abundance of food.
  7. The date of the equinox varies every year and this depends on the difference between the way the Gregorian calendar defines a year (365 days) and the time actually taken by the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun (about 365 1/4 days).

Autumn equinox in Italy: holidays and anniversaries

The autumn equinox is also celebrated throughout Italy, with recurrences related to popular tradition. Among the best known, the following are listed:

  • Feast of the Archangel Michael: celebrated in parts of Europe and especially in Southern Italy, it is based on Christian iconography. Michele is the defender of the Light against the eternal Dark and symbolizes man’s struggle with the difficult season that is about to come. Usually there is a week of celebrations, with the culmination on 29 September, with rich lunches, dances in the square, religious celebrations and torchlight processions;
  • San Giovanni a Piro: famous is the equinox festival in San Giovanni a Piro, in Campania. Here for decades, parties have been organized in the square, religious celebrations, concerts to end the summer in style. The celebrations also involve the neighboring hamlets of Scario and Bosco;
  • Piedmont and Puglia: in many areas of Piedmont and Puglia, instead, the bread festival is celebrated, made thanks to the summer harvests, a recurrence linked to the aforementioned Archangel Michael. In particular, numerous events are always scheduled at the Piedmontese Sagra di San Michele and the homonymous festival in Montesantangelo in Puglia.

Source: GreenStyle by

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