Autumnal Equinox Traditions

Przemyslaw "Blueshade" Idzkiewicz
Przemyslaw "Blueshade" Idzkiewicz

Today is the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the point after which the nights become longer than the days, as the North Pole tilts away from the sun. We commonly know it as the first day of fall, although we’ve said goodbye to summer already in the rites of Labor Day and the beginning of the school year. We’ve told you about the traditions and celebrations surrounding the vernal equinox in the spring, and yes, there are traditions for its opposite— although not as many. While the beginning of spring is a joyous occasion, the waning of warm weather is a bit melancholy.

In pagan mythology, the equinox is called Mabon, or Second Harvest. It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness. It is also a time of preparing for Samhain (October 31–November 1), the bigger pagan festival that begins winter. Some Wiccan rituals for Mabon include building an altar with harvest fruits and vegetables, meditating on balance, gathering and feasting on apples, offering apples to the goddess, sharing food, and counting one’s blessings.

Photograph by Flickr user Lazaro Lazo.

Japan marks the equinoxes—both of them—with a period called Ohigan (sometimes spelled O-higan). The Japanese Buddhist belief is that the land of the afterlife is due west, and during the equinoxes, the sun sets directly west. The equinoxes are also symbolic of the transitions of life. The week around each equinox is Ohigan, a time to visit the graves of one's ancestors, to spruce up the grave sites, and to leave flowers. It is also a time of meditation and to visit living relatives.

Photograph by Shizhao.

China and Vietnam celebrate the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on the full moon nearest to the equinox. On a lunar calendar, that is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It is celebrated with the usual festival activities, plus gazing at the moon and eating moon cakes. In the southern U.S., Moon Pies are often used in place of moon cakes. A similar holiday in Korea is called Chuseok

Photograph by Flickr user Matthew Hoelscher.

Michaelmas is the Catholic feast of the Archangel Michael. Some traditions use this feast day to celebrate other archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael as the Feast of the Angels. The feast day is September 29, which is celebrated as the beginning of fall in some places. It is thought that the feast was set near the autumn equinox to draw the faithful away from pagan celebrations, as are several other Christian holidays. Traditions include gathering and eating nuts (which began on Holy Rood Day on September 14), and eating a fattened goose, if you could afford that luxury. In centuries past in England, it was a time of transitions, as servants were paid their wages after the harvest, and workers scrambled to find new employment contracts. The employment fairs that facilitated this custom became an opportunity for community celebration. It is also a good time to eat blackberries, as “Old Michaelmas Day" (October 10th) is traditionally the cutoff time for picking blackberries.

Photograph by Flickr user Government Press Office.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year holiday, is 163 days after the first day of Passover. The date of Passover is set to begin the night of the full moon after the vernal equinox, so Rosh Hashanah has only a tangental relationship with the equinox.

Photograph by Flickr user Stonehenge Stone Circle.

Neo-Druids gather at Stonehenge to watch the equinox sunrise. This happens every year, both in spring and fall. As with other pagan groups, the equinox is a time for Druids to offer thanks for a bountiful harvest and prepare for the darkness of winter.

Photograph by Flickr user Stonehenge Stone Circle.

In the West, celebrations surrounding the fall equinox are less about the equinox itself and more about the activities of fall. We have county fairs and festivals, which are scheduled around school calendars and to maximize tourism. We celebrate Halloween all out of proportion to its historic roots, because it’s fun. We decorate with fall colors and harvest fruits for months at a time, and we split our holidays, celebrating the end of summer with Labor Day and giving thanks for a bountiful harvest on Thanksgiving. Together, those are all celebrations of fall.

Photograph by Flickr user Valerie Everett.

In the Southern Hemisphere, today is the first day of spring, which is a whole other holiday.

See also: How Did the Seasons Get Their Names?

6 Cat Breeds With Wild Roots

Nataliia Pyzhova, iStock via Getty Images
Nataliia Pyzhova, iStock via Getty Images

Throughout history, people have tried to bring wild cats like Servals, Caracals, and even lions and tigers into their home. And while it perhaps goes without saying, we'll say it anyway: Attempting to domestic an animal that’s meant to be wild can have some pretty serious consequences. Still, over time, breeders have managed to bring together the wild and domestic in these distinct breeds.

1. Savannah

A Savannah cat
Jason Douglas, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A cross between a house cat and an African Serval, Savannahs are typically tall and lean with distinct dark spots and pointed ears. And as far as their personality goes, they are often likened to dogs because they tend to be adventurous, affectionate, and highly curious. The first Savannah was born in 1986, and the breed is now recognized by The International Cat Association (TICA) as a championship breed, which means they are able to compete in TICA-sanctioned shows.

When cross-breeding a Serval and a house cat, the subsequent generations of a Savannah are referred to as F1, F2, F3, and so on. If you’re thinking about buying a Savannah, it’s important to see if your home state even allows them as pets, as some consider them too wild. You can check out the rules and regulations by heading to Hybrid Law.

2. Bengal

A Bengal Cat
Seregraff, iStock via Getty Images Plus

A cross between a domestic cat and an Asian leopard cat (ALC), Bengals tend to be very curious, very active, and—when they finally settle down—loving. As far as their physical appearance, Bengals usually have short, soft coats with spots that are often likened to leopards.

The breed as we know it began with cat breeder Jean Mill, who crossed ALCs with domestic cats in 1963. They were accepted as a new breed in 1986 by the TICA and gained championship status in 1991.

3. Toyger

A Toyger cat
Seregraff, iStock via Getty Images Plus

A cross between domestic shorthairs and Bengals, Toygers are as close as you’ll get to having a real tiger basking in the sunlight of your home. According to TICA, breeders are still working on getting these felines' stripes just right. But for now, these pint-size tigers are known for loving quality time with their human counterparts, being laid back, and being very intelligent. Some people even train them to walk on a leash.

4. Chausie

Chausie cat
Tania Wild, iStock via Getty Images Plus

The Chausie is a result of hybrids of a Jungle Cats (Felis chaus) breeding with a domestic cats. While there have been cases of this happening for a long time, the first recorded instance was in 1990. These felines can grow to be 18 inches tall and can weigh up to 30 pounds. Chausies are highly intelligent, and because of that, this is not the cat for you if you plan to leave them alone for extended periods of time. According to TICA, this tall and long-bodied cat is high-energy, can be trained to walk on a leash, and loves to socialize with its humans.

5. Cheetoh

A cheetoh cat
LealeaG, iStock via Getty Images

The name "Cheetoh cat" probably brings up the image of a laid back cartoon cheetah hocking cheese puffs, but it's also a fairly new breed of house cat. According to the International Cheetoh Breeders Association, the Cheetoh is an attempt to create a breed that looks like a wild cat with the gentleness of a house cat. They’re a cross between Ocicats (which don't technically have wild roots, but instead get their name from their close resemblance to Ocelots) and Bengals.

These Cheetohs typically weigh between 15–23 pounds and come in a variety of colors, ranging from sienna with black and brown spots to white with gold spots. While they may look like cats you’d find stalking prey out in the jungle, Cheetohs are very friendly and bring together excellent traits from both breeds. While each one is unique, these cats tend to be energetic, intelligent, friendly, and like to stay busy.

6. Serengeti

Serengeti cat
KrissiLundgren, iStock via Getty Images

The goal of breeding the Serengeti Cat is to produce a cat that resembles the wild Serval without having any actual Serval blood. The first Serengeti Cat was bred by Karen Sausman in the ’90s by crossing a Bengal and an Oriental Shorthair. However, its lineage does include the Asian leopard cat, whose genes contributed to its Bengal Cat ancestor.

Serengeti Cats have long ears and legs like a Serval, and a neck that does not taper where it meets the head. They are agile, active, and vocal. According to the TICA, these cats may take some time to warm up to you, but once they do, they’ll want to be with you all the time.

Before you go ahead and purchase one of these felines, it’s important to check to make your state allows them as pets. You should, of course, check with specific breed organizations before you select a breeder or adopt at an exotic cat show. But another great alternative is to check with your local shelter for a cat that desperately needs a home.

Remembering the 7 Challenger Astronauts

NASA
NASA

When the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986, there were seven astronauts on board whose lives were tragically cut short.

1. Dick Scobee // Commander

Lt. Col. Francis Richard Scobee enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1957. He served as an engine mechanic and took college classes in his spare time, earning a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Arizona in 1965, as well as an officer’s commission. He became a pilot the next year and served in Vietnam as a combat aviator. Scobee then became a test pilot and logged 6500 hours flying 45 different types of aircraft. After joining NASA’s astronaut program in 1978, he not only flew the space shuttle, but also instructed pilots on flying the Boeing 747 that carried shuttles to Florida.

Scobee piloted the shuttle Challenger into space on its fifth mission in April 1984; his next assignment was as commander of the Challenger mission in January 1986. Scobee told his family that his second shuttle mission might be his last. An aunt remembered, ''He said he had acquired everything he wanted in life.’’

Scobee achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was survived by his wife and two children. His son, Lieutenant General Richard W. Scobee, is now Chief of Air Force Reserve in Arlington, Virginia and Commander of the Air Force Reserve Command at Georgia's Robins Air Force Base.

2. Michael J. Smith // Pilot

Captain Michael John Smith grew up near an airstrip in Morehead, North Carolina, and never wanted to do anything but fly. (Once, when he was the quarterback of a junior varsity football team, he called a timeout just so he could watch a military airplane pass overhead.) He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967 and achieved a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1968. Smith became a pilot in 1969 and served as a flight instructor until he was sent to Vietnam. There, Smith earned numerous medals and citations for two years of combat duty. He then became an instructor. Smith logged 4867 hours of flight time in 28 types of aircraft before becoming part of NASA’s astronaut program in 1980. Smith was assigned as pilot for two shuttle missions in 1986, the first scheduled for January aboard the Challenger. Smith was survived by his wife and three children.

3. Ronald McNair // Mission Specialist

Dr. Ronald Ervin McNair was a high achiever from an early age. He could read before starting school, and in elementary school was inspired by the Soviet Sputnik launch to pursue an education in science. In 1959, when he was 9 years old, McNair challenged the segregated public library in his hometown of Lake City, South Carolina. His brother Carl told the tale to StoryCorps.

McNair’s educational career was littered with honors, and he achieved a Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1976. His specialties were lasers and molecular spectroscopy, knowledge he put to use at Hughes Research Laboratories. When NASA began accepting scientists and test pilots into its astronaut program in the ‘70s, McNair applied and made the 1978 class of astronaut candidates. He flew on the Challenger in 1984, spending seven days in orbit and becoming the second African American (after Guy Bluford) to fly in space. The Challenger launch in 1986 was to be his second as a mission specialist.

McNair was an accomplished saxophone player and held a 5th degree black belt in karate. He was survived by his wife and two children. In addition to several schools, streets, and parks named in his honor, the old public library building in Lake City became the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center in 2011.

4. Ellison Onizuka // Mission Specialist

Colonel Ellison Shoji Onizuka grew up in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in June 1969 from the University of Colorado, and then a master’s degree in December that year. Onizuka immediately joined the Air Force and became an aerospace flight test engineer and then a test pilot. Selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, Onizuka flew on Discovery—the first Department of Defense shuttle mission—in 1985, becoming the first Asian American astronaut to fly in space. In his career, Onizuka logged 1700 hours of flying time and 74 hours in space. The Challenger mission was to be his second space flight.

Onizuka, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, was posthumously promoted to Colonel. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. Among other honors and memorials, the University of Hawaii has held the Astronaut Ellison Onizuka Science Day every year for the past 20 years to promote science education among students in grades four through 12.

5. Judith Resnik // Mission Specialist

Dr. Judith Arlene Resnik, a math whiz who also played classical piano, was valedictorian of the Firestone High School Class of 1966 in Akron, Ohio. After earning a perfect SAT score, Resnik went on to get a degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon in 1970 and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She helped to develop radar systems for RCA, worked as a biomedical engineer for the National Institutes of Health, and did product development for Xerox, all before being selected for the astronaut program in 1978. She was recruited by Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, who was working for NASA as a recruiter at the time.

Resnik flew on the space shuttle Discovery in August 1984 and became the second American woman in space (after Sally Ride) as well as the first Jewish American in space. The images from that mission were particularly striking because of Resnik’s long hair floating in microgravity. The Challenger mission was to be her second space flight.

Among other memorials, the lunar crater Borman X on the far side of the moon was renamed Resnik in 1988. Resnik’s family sued the maker of the defective O-rings that caused the Challenger failure, and used the settlement funds to endow scholarships at Firestone High School and three universities.

6. Gregory Jarvis // Payload Specialist

Gregory Bruce Jarvis was an engineer who became an Air Force captain and an astronaut specifically because of his engineering talent. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1967 and a master’s in 1969. Jarvis worked at Raytheon on the SAM-D missile project while completing his studies. He then joined the Air Force and was assigned to research on communications satellites. After an honorable discharge in 1973, Jarvis designed communications satellites for Hughes Aircraft. As an expert in satellite communications, he was selected over 600 other applicants among Hughes employees to be one of two Hughes payload specialists for NASA’s shuttle program in 1984. Jarvis was scheduled for shuttle missions and was bumped twice to make room for celebrity passengers: Utah Senator Jake Garn in March 1985 and Florida Congressman Bill Nelson on January 12, 1986. Jarvis would finally get his chance on the Challenger on January 28.

Jarvis was survived by his wife. In addition to his engineering career, he was an avid outdoorsman and played classical guitar.

7. Christa McAuliffe // Payload Specialist

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan challenged NASA to make the shuttle’s first “citizen passenger” a teacher. The Teacher in Space Project was born, and more than 11,000 teachers applied for the position. Ultimately, Christa McAuliffe was selected.

Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe held a master’s in education and a job as a social studies teacher at Concord High School in New Hampshire. She had also taught American history, English, and various other subjects at the junior high and high school levels over her 15-year teaching career. McAuliffe arranged for a year away from her job and trained with NASA in anticipation of her shuttle mission. She was supposed to deliver two live lessons broadcast to schools across the country, as well as six more lessons that would be distributed around the country after the shuttle landed.

The fact that a teacher was going to space prompted an unprecedented number of schools to watch the Challenger launch on the morning of January 28, 1986.

McAuliffe was survived by her husband and two children. The backup teacher selected for the Teacher in Space project, Barbara Morgan, lobbied NASA to reinstate the Teacher in Space program. In 1998, she was named the first Educator Astronaut under a new program. Morgan finally got to go into space in 2007 on the shuttle Endeavour on a mission to the International Space Station.

All images from NASA // Public Domain

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER