Although the summer solstice may have stronger connotations with ancient celebrations, the autumn equinox carries its own significance.

For many people it marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere, based on the traditional, astronomical way of calculating the seasons.

For pagans, it also marks the holiday of Mabon, one of the festivals during the year when observers give thanks for the harvest – here’s everything you need to know.

What is Mabon?

Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain), when pagans reflect on the past season and express their gratitude for the blessings in their lives.

The festival is held to thank Mother Earth for providing a good harvest to last through winter, with animals traditionally slaughtered and preserved at the equinox in order to provide enough food for the cold months ahead.

According to modern pagan tradition, Mabon was named after a character from Welsh mythology, who was considered to be the god of light and the son of the Earth Mother named Modron.

However, some historians are now disputing this narrative and instead arguing that the name “Mabon” was adopted by pagans as recently as the 1970s.

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain (R) conducts a ceremony as druids, pagans and revellers gather in the centre at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a autumn equinox celebrations at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury on September 23, 2017 in Wiltshire, England. Several hundred people gathered at sunrise ar the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument, to celebrate the equinox which is a specific moment in time that occurs twice a year when the Earth tilts neither towards (summer) or away (winter) from the sun in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Although yesterday marked the actual meteorological calendar change from summer to autumn, for druids, the following dawn is when they celebrate 'the dawning of the new season' following the day of equal night, which it is named after. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Druids and pagans gather at Stonehenge for the autumn solstice every year (Photo: Getty Images)

Today, many pagan groups choose to have a huge feast to mark the autumn equinox with their family and friends using seasonal foods such as apples, grapes, root vegetables and other seasonal products.

Pagan worship centers around the earth, as opposed to a particular space like a church.

For this reason, communities usually gather in forests or at home – but some ancient sites such as Stonehenge do hold a particular importance.

Druids still gather at site to this day to mark the autumn equinox, watching the sun rise above the famous stones.

Another common ritual is to set up an altar with symbols of the season, as an offering to express gratitude.

When is the autumn equinox 2022?

This year’s autumnal equinox is on Friday 23 September – it can be any position between 22nd and 24th of the month.

Equinoxes get their name from the Latin for “equal night”, and denote the only two points in the year when the equator is the closest part of Earth to the sun.

In theory, this means that everywhere on the planet should get 12 hours of daylight and darkness on those days, although this is complicated slightly by the Earth’s atmosphere affecting the way we see sunlight.

If you were to view the sun from the equator on the day, it would theoretically rise exactly due east, and set due west.

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The actual date when the timings are equal is referred to as the equilux, and falls a few days before the spring equinox and a few days after the autumn equinox.

For six months each of the year, either the northern or southern hemisphere is pointing slightly towards the sun, bringing the warmer temperatures of spring and summer.

The astronomical season uses the date of the equinox as the season’s first day, so 23 September.

According to this system, autumn gives way to winter on the date of the winter solstice, which this year falls on Wednesday 21 December.

The simpler, meteorological system splits the year into four seasons of three full months each based on the Gregorian calendar.

So every year, autumn lasts from 1 September until 30 November, with winter then kicking off at the beginning of December.

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