Monday, September 17, 2012

The First Day of Fall

The first day of fall, also known at the Autumnal Equinox, begins this year in the Northern Hemisphere on September 22, 2012 at 10:49 A.M. EDT. The word equinox comes from the Latin words for "equal night." The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator.

In many regions of North America, vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange begin to take over our landscapes. Leaves begin to drop and baseball season is coming to an end, while football season is just warming up. Temperatures begin to drop and nights begin to get longer. 

With Autumn coming into full swing, it is easy to see the merging of cultures in America with their different traditions.Here are a few:

Scarecrows are traditionally in the shape of a man, covered in old clothes and placed in a field to scare away birds.  The earliest known record of these straw men comes from Japan, where they are known as Kuebiko.  They were written about in a book known as the Kojiki, which was first printed in the year 712 and describes a scarecrow-god which could not walk and was propped on a stick, yet he knew everything about the world around him.  Now they appear in Fall for decoration and to continue to scare those pesky birds from eating gardens!

When one thinks of the Jack-O-Lantern, one usually imagines a big pumpkin carved out for Halloween.  The original purpose for the Jack-O-Lantern was a lantern.  Holding a lit candle while you were walking around caused hot wax to get on your hands.  Placing that candle inside a carved out pumpkin, squash, or for the very poor, a turnip,  with holes cut out so the light could be cast seemed a perfect solution.

In time people started carving faces onto the turnips or pumpkins but the term "Jack-O-Lantern" didn't occur until 1837 and was used to refer a lantern made from any vegetable. 

In the United States, the pumpkin - which is native to the Americas - has been associated with as a seasonal lantern and not with Halloween.  Some suspect the name of the lantern comes from an early Irish Christian story about a man named "Stingy Jack" who tricked the Devil.  Thus, Jack-O-Lanterns became good luck symbols against evil.

Bobbing for apples is a game played as far back as Celtic times and requires a person to snatch an apple out of a bucket of water using only their mouths.  The game is based on the belief that the apple is the symbol of love by ancient people.  When families would gather for autumn festivals, teenage boys and girls would duck for the apples to see if they could grasp one.  The young girls would then keep the apple and place it under their pillows and it was thought that they would dream of their future husband. 

Here are familiar  Autumn proverbs:

  • Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor. - Irish proverb
  •  Spring rain damps; Autumn rain soaks.  - Unknown 
  •  Of autumn's wine, now drink your fill; the frost's on the pumpkin, and snow's on the hill.  - The Old Farmer's Almanac, 1993
  •  Autumn has caught us in our summer wear. - Philip Larkin, British poet (1922-1986)

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