Most of us have been conditioned to believe summer ends abruptly after Labor Day weekend (or whenever Starbucks announces that the PSL is back). But fall doesn't officially start until the sun crosses the Earth's equator from north to south, in an event known as the autumnal equinox, or within Paganism, Mabon. This year, the equinox will occur on Saturday, September 22, at 9:54 p.m. EST. Spiritually speaking, this day signals much more than the start of sweater weather — the fall equinox is also viewed as the perfect opportunity to spend time outside, embrace changes in the natural world, and practice gratitude.
"There are three harvest festivals (of which the fall equinox is the second) and they all revolve around our gratitude for the Earth and the bounty it gives us," explains author and Wiccan high priestess Deborah Blake. Historically, that bounty was literal: Pagans and other followers of nature-based faiths would spend the equinox celebrating a successful crop and preparing their pantries for the colder months to come.
Nowadays, you're just as likely to celebrate a more figurative bounty. By looking back on the last 12 months, since last year's fall equinox, you'll probably recall something (maybe a new friendship, relationship, job, or something as simple as a new budgeting app) that deserves a moment of reflection and, yes, gratitude.
Fall is associated with major changes in the outside world, as the leaves shift in color and animals start preparing for hibernation, so it's only natural to take a moment to recognize the changes that have taken place in your own life, too. Blake reminds us that the fall equinox is one of the two days in the entire year when daytime and nighttime are roughly equal in length, "making it a great time to do magical work for balance in your own life." What better way to make your life feel more balanced than to give back for all you've gotten?
So, once you've reflected on and realized all that you've gained since last year, it's time to show your appreciation for those developments. If you want to take a more traditional route, Blake recommends doing something that directly supports the Earth. "Give some of that bounty back to the earth by planting a tree [or] putting food out for the birds," she says.
If you'd rather perform a more symbolic ritual, you can express your gratitude by "simply lighting a candle and saying 'thank you,'" Blake says. You can reach out to the people who helped you most this year just to say hi, cover your coworker's shift, or tip a little extra for your barista. You don't have to do anything elaborate, as long as your intention is to show thanks for the progress you've been able to make since last fall.
So, there's no reason to wait until Thanksgiving to show gratitude for what's come into your life in the last year. It'll be just as spiritually fulfilling to do so this weekend during the fall equinox — plus, you might be sick of the cooler temps by November and be in a less thankful mood.