Fall into Fall:
A History and Overview of the Autumn Season
As summer winds down, the temperatures begin to fall and the leaves slowly start to turn. From a season of excess to a season of temperance, autumn is a time of transition.
Until the 16th century, the season of autumn was actually know as "harvest" in reference to the working of the land and the reaping of crops, which occurred before winter. When people began moving away from an agricultural lifestyle, however, the use of the word harvest fell out of favor and was replaced by the term autumn, derived from the French word automne.
The season's connection to the harvest has not been lost, however, as many of the world's religious still celebrate holidays rich in agricultural symbolism during this time of year. Native American tribes celebrate a variety of harvest festivals. The Green Corn Festival, for example, is significant in Cherokee, Seminole, and Iroquois Indian tribes as well as many others. Held during a full moon, it marks the start of the harvesting of the corn crop. It is a time of thanksgiving and forgiveness.
Similar themes are expressed during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which is also a full moon harvest commemorating the reaping of the autumn crops. The holiday also concludes the period of repentance which began with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, some two weeks earlier. Even the secular holiday of Thanksgiving features rich harvest imagery, including the use of pumpkins, gourds and corn in food and décor.
The official start of autumn in the northern hemisphere is on September 21st with the autumnal equinox. While the Sun crossing the celestial equator signifies the start of fall, it doesn't necessary signal a fall in hot summer temperatures. In fact, many places in the northern hemipshere experience a so-called "Indian Summer" when temperatures rise well into the 90s and beyond. The Southern Hemisphere experiences autumn beginning in late March, whereas September is the start of their spring.
One of the most prominent features of the autumn season is the changing of the leaves. As temperatures drop, chlorophyll production in leaves slows down, decreasing the amount of green pigments in leaves. Anthocyanin and xanthophylls pigments begin to emerge, turning leaves red, purple, orange and yellow. As the breeze picks up and temperatures drop even further, the leaves turn brown and fall to the ground, producing a melancholy crunch under foot.
This melancholy mood is often associated with autumn in poetry. Indeed, the grey skies and chilly temperatures affect many people, sparking an onset of seasonal depressive disorder in millions of Americans. Millions more, however, are cheered by the start of fall, embracing the season's deep colors, beautiful traditions, and blessedly cooler temperatures.
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