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Category: Harvest celebrations

Did Our Ancestors Celebrate  the Fall Equinox?

Did Our Ancestors Celebrate  the Fall Equinox?

Did our ancestors celebrate the fall equinox? The question is an interesting one, and left for much interpretation. Certainly, some of our ancestors did pay attention to the equinox, as marked by many paleolithic stone circles. However, if we’re talking about those ancestors in the Viking Age, the idea gets a bit more muddled. I’ll explain.

What Exactly is the Fall Equinox?

For those of you who don’t know, the equinox is the time when the sun shines directly on the equator. To explain how that happens, we’ll have to refresh our basic astronomy.

Our planet, Earth, revolves around the sun. One circuit around the sun equals one year. The Earth spins around its axis as well, and the length of time it takes to make one full revolution is approximately 24 hours. With me so far?

But the Earth’s axis is tilted compared to the plane of its path around the sun. The Earth is tilted because it “spins” similar to a top. But unlike a top, the Earth’s wobble occurs over millions of years, and not seconds, like the toy. Because the Earth is in a tilt, it stays in the tilt as it revolves around the sun. So, winter occurs in our hemisphere when our hemisphere is furthest away from the sun. That is the winter solstice. The equinox occurs midway between winter and summer solstice when the sun is equal distant between the North and South poles.

Did Our Ancestors Recognize the Equinox?

So, the equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator, giving us a near equal day and night. Hence the name, Equinox, meaning “equal night.” But did our ancestors recognize the equinox, and did it have any special meaning to them? Did they celebrate the fall equinox? (Or spring equinox, for that matter?)

We can look at various archaeological digs and find that yes, our ancestors did know about the equinox, and in some cultures, it must have had a religious significance. Stonehenge and Newgrange are two archaeological sites that keep track of the solstices and eclipses. Other sites across Ireland and Great Britain may also track the sun.

Other cultures, notably the Mayans, Chinese, Native Americans, and Egyptians also tracked the sun with their pyramids and monuments. So, it is likely that ancient European cultures were aware of the equinoxes. But how did our Northern ancestors celebrate the Fall equinox?

The Northern Ancestors’ Year

The Norse kept a calendar that had only two seasons: winter and summer. The reason is pretty obvious. There was snow, and there was no snow and farming time. The solstices seemed to have played a bigger role in Norse beliefs, hence Yule and Midsummer.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that the peoples in the Viking Era weren’t aware of the equinoxes. Certainly, during the fall equinox, people were busy with the harvest. But they would hold harvest festivals to celebrate and give thanks for a good harvest. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t mark the equinox in some fashion, since it meant the night would overtake the daylight. No doubt many Northern peoples looked at the equinox as the herald of the upcoming winter darkness.

Solstices were More Important

Other pagan cultures celebrated Mabon, and today we have Winter Finding. As much as I would like to think the equinoxes were important, I suspect that the Solstices were more so. The first month of winter is in October in the old Norse calendar, and the first month of summer is in April. So, obviously the spring and fall equinox wasn’t as important as the solstices. But, they still had some importance. Eostre was celebrated close to the spring equinox and harvest celebrations were close to the fall equinox.

As always, if you have insights, be sure to let me know.

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Is Thanksgiving Dying?

Is Thanksgiving Dying?

I was reading a blog post on Patheos about society and merchants killing Thanksgiving.  I found it an interesting read and I had to sit and think about the idea a bit. The blogger, I think, got it right in some ways and wrong in others.  Since I am most likely older than the blogger (I painfully admit this), I can probably add my two cents as to what is happening to the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

What Thanksgiving was in Relation to Christmas

Before I get some push back, let me state that even though I’m Heathen, I recognize that the “holiday season” is largely the Christmas season.  That’s because the majority of people in the US are still Christian, and even those who aren’t Christian still celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.  So even though Christmas is just a hijacked Yule, I’m going to be a realist here and talk about what the majority of Americans celebrate.
Thanksgiving was born out of the traditional harvest festivals. It became an official American holiday in 1863 thanks to Abraham Lincoln.  Before that, it was mostly celebrated in New England, although presidents before Lincoln would often declare a day of Thanksgiving.  If you want the whole story, you can read my post on it.

Thanksgiving, due to its proximity to Christmas, was a natural start of the holiday season, once Christmas became popular, thanks to Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. (Christmas, by the way, was not that popular of a holiday in the New World, thanks to our Puritan founders.)  Even in Europe, Christmas was unpopular by the 19th century, requiring Dickens to give it a facelift.  In Medieval times, it was a time of communal feasting and playing games.  Much of that stopped abruptly when the Black Death hit.

So, by the time World War II came along, Christmas had enjoyed enough popularity to have President Franklin D. Roosevelt tinker with the date of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of the month so that merchants could plan their holiday sales.  Seriously.

Thanksgiving and the Christmas Buying Season


The blogger bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving is being run over by black Friday sales that start on Thursday in the hopes to lure more shoppers to buy.  And in truth, the holiday season is often a make or break time for many merchants. But should it mean that the stores should be open for you to buy stuff when people should be staying home with their families?

As old as I am (old as dirt, I reckon), I seem to recall that the Christmas buying season started around Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember Black Fridays until at least the 70s, but the term was coined in the 50s because cops had to pull 12 hour shifts to deal with the shoppers.  Since I didn’t live in Philadelphia, that’s probably why I don’t remember it much when I was a kid.  This Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving is a headache and one either people will embrace or decide to skip.  It depends on how popular it will be for the trend to survive, but I’m counting on people to use their smartphones and buy online on Thanksgiving.

What I’m More Concerned With

As depressing as Christmas shopping taking over Thanksgiving is, I’m more concerned with the lack of association of the Thanksgiving and Harvest festivals.  Sure, kids learn to draw turkeys and pumpkins and corn, but in most cases kids don’t see turkeys other than in books and in videos and have never stepped foot in a field where corn and pumpkins are grown.  They and probably their parents look at the world through their extremely urban or suburban living.  Sure, they might get a chance to visit a farm on a school trip, but that really is about the extent.  So when they have their highly processed bird at Thanksgiving, they haven’t really had a connection to the harvest.  Instead, it’s an excuse to eat and then sit on the couch and play video games or watch football. And yes. we look at Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas buying season.  Yay.

There’s a town I enter when I hunt in a certain area which has an honest-to-gods harvest festival annually.  That’s because it’s a farm town.  When I saw the signs, I was delighted and intrigued.  If it wasn’t hunting season, I’d be there just to watch what went on.  Unfortunately Skadi has not gifted me an elk this season thus far, so I’m busy looking for those.

Understanding harvest, which is where Thanksgiving comes from, is important.  Knowing where our food is from.  Actually growing crops and tending livestock. Thanking Freyr for the abundance. Saving the last sheaf of wheat for the wights and gods.  Remembering ancestors.  That’s what I believe is endangered.

Thanksgiving will undoubtedly morph into something more commercial, if Madison Avenue has its way.  But hopefully as Heathenism grows, perhaps more people will pay attention to its roots and recognize the importance of Harvest.