AUTUMN (A/K/A FALL)
Autumn or fall is one of the four temperate seasons. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter, in September (Northern Hemisphere) or March (Southern Hemisphere) when the arrival of night becomes noticeably earlier.
The equinoxes might be expected to be in the middle of their respective seasons, but temperature lag (caused by the thermal latency of the ground and sea) means that seasons appear later than dates calculated from a purely astronomical perspective. The actual lag varies with region. Some cultures regard the autumnal equinox as “mid-autumn”; others with a longer lag treat it as the start of autumn. Meteorologists (most of the temperate countries in the southern hemisphere) use a definition based on months, with autumn being September, October and November in the northern hemisphere, and March, April and May in the southern hemisphere.
In North America, autumn is usually considered to start with the September equinox. In traditional East Asian solar term, autumn starts on or around August 8th and ends on about November 7th. In Ireland, the autumn months according to the national meteorological service are September, October and November. However, according to the Irish Calendar which is based on ancient Gaelic traditions, autumn lasts throughout the months of August, September, and October, or possibly a few days later, depending on tradition. In Australia, autumn officially begins on March 1st and ends May 31st. According to United States tradition, autumn runs from the day after Labor Day (the Tuesday following the first Monday of September) through Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November), after which the holiday season that demarcates the unofficial beginning of winter begins.
The alternative word fall for the season traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, with the Old English fiæll or feallan as well as and the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates. However, these words all have the meaning “to fall from a height” and are clearly derived either from a common root or from each other. The term came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year”.
Association with the transition from warm to cold weather, and its related status as the season of the primary harvest, has dominated its themes and popular images. In Western cultures, personifications of autumn are usually pretty, well-fed females adorned with fruits, vegetables and grains that ripen at this time. Many cultures feature autumnal harvest festivals, often the most important on their calendars. Still extant echoes of these celebrations are found in the mid-autumn Thanksgiving holiday of the United States and Canada, and the Jewish Sukkot holiday with its roots as a full-moon harvest festival of “tabernacles” (living in outdoor huts around the time of harvest). There are also the many North American Indian festivals tied to harvest of autumnally ripe foods gathered in the wild, the Chinese Mid-Autumn or Moon festival, and many others. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is gladness for the fruits of the earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminent arrival of harsh weather. While most foods are harvested during the autumn, foods particularly associated with the season include pumpkins (integral parts and apples, which are used to make the seasonal beverage apple cider. I also go apple picking in the fall at several local farms and get apples to make homemade apple sauce and pies.
Autumn in poetry has often been associated with melancholy. The possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and many people turn inward, both physically and mentally.
In the Anglo sphere, most notably in Anglo-America, autumn is also associated with the Halloween season (which in turn was influenced by Samhain, a Celtic autumn festival), and with it a widespread marketing campaign that promotes it, in the U.S.A. The television, film, book, costume, home decoration, and confectionery industries use this time of year to promote products closely associated with such a holiday, with promotions going from early September to October 31st, since their themes rapidly lose strength once the holiday ends, and advertising starts concentrating on the Christmas season.
Autumn has a strong association with American football, as the regular season begins during September and ends with playoff competition in December or January, in the winter season. Canadian football, on the other hand, begins in the summer, but extends its season through the autumn season and into November. A normal activity for high schools in the US is attending Friday night football games in Autumn, while Sunday afternoons are reserved for the professional game, particularly the National Football League, and Saturdays are traditionally used for college football. The sport is generally geared around fall weather and playing in cold elements. Autumn also has strong ties to post-season baseball, with the autumnal equinox occurring with about a week left in the regular season, depending on scheduling. Autumn baseball oftentimes signifies excitement in the air for fans who root for teams on the cusp of making the post-season, as well as those that made it. The World Series, baseball’s championship series which determines the champion of Major League Baseball for that season is held in mid-to-late October (sometimes spilling over into November to accommodate longer series) and is nicknamed the “Fall Classic”.
Autumn, particularly in most parts of the United States, also has a strong association with the start of a new school year, particularly for children in primary and secondary education. “Back to school” advertising and preparations usually occurs in the weeks leading to the start of the fall season. Since 1997, Autumn has been one of the top 100 names for girls in the United States. In Indian mythology, autumn is considered to be the preferred season for the goddess of learning Saraswati, who is also known by the name of “goddess of autumn”.
Although colour changes in leaves occur wherever deciduous trees are found, coloured autumn foliage is noted in various regions of the world: most of Anglo-America, Eastern Asia, Europe, parts of Australia and New Zealand’s South Island. Eastern Canada and New England are famous for their autumnal foliage, and this attracts major tourism (worth billions of U.S. dollars) for the regions. I remember when we (my brother and I) were growing up always being fascinated by the changing colours of the leaves. We always raked them up and put them in piles for the town to collect. We also used old clothing and other things we found around to stuff with the leaves we had raked up. Our family also took weekend outings to different areas to see the leaves in all their glorious colors. In school we sometimes brought the best colored leaves in to use in class projects or in art class.