Autumn, transition between sultry summer and tempestuous winter, is a time to honor the dead, celebrate the harvest, and give thanks. The diverse peoples of the Northern Hemisphere indulge in family fun, feasting, crafts fairs, parades, and fine arts. Among the earliest celebrations are the Jewish Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, closely followed by Succot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Originally the feasts were literally in tabernacles (huts). Now venerated around the family table, there’s the typical holiday scramble to assemble and prepare traditional foods: challah bread, gifilte fish or a roasted chicken, and apple cake or oatmeal cookies for dessert.
Harvest Moon, the first full moon before the fall equinox, presents another excuse to party. At communities, like Callaway Gardens in Georgia (U.S.A.), folks watch college football, take horticulture tours, and go cycling. Falling Leaf Moon is next, when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is said to be thinnest. Celebrated by Pagans and Wiccans, it’s a ripe moment to gather for séance.
On the heals of Falling Leaf Moon is Halloween and all things spine-tingling. Special events at places like Carisbrooke Castle, Pendennis Castle, and Whitby Abbey in England – where the gothic and ghostly meet – offer visitors historic tours, spine-tingling walks, and spooky tales. It all harks back to the primal times that birthed today’s foods, feasts, and falderal.
Dia de Todos los Santos and Dia de los Muertos are honored in Central and South America with customs that represent a melding of cultures, American and European. Feasting is the order of the day: suckling pig and tamales. There’s music and prayers, picnics held at graveyards, and tables decorated with candles, photographs of deceased relatives and friends, and t’antawawas (bread figurines).
It would seem we humans – no matter the culture – like to celebrate our gratitude by feasting on the wealth of our harvest. In North America the big event of the season is Thanksgiving, a holiday that falls in early October in Canada and late November in the States. Major crops in North America include pumpkin, corn, potatoes, nuts, apples, and wheat, all ingredients for dinners of roasted and stuffed turkey, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin or apple pie. Happy kitchen clatter and the scents of cinnamon, cardamom, and sage fill the air.
Cities everywhere have parades, but the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has a long history. It started in 1824 when immigrant workers wanted a festival like the ones enjoyed in Europe. Today it’s an exciting oversized event with mega-stars from Broadway and Hollywood and mega-sized balloons and floats. Forty-four million view it on TV.
Like the trade gatherings of the original peoples (Native Americans), crafters fairs are held at large event centers to sell their handcrafted foods, household items, jewelry, and toys. These visually sensual treats arrive just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving. Often the fairs include musical entertainments, story-telling, and crafts classes as well.
A wealth of entertainment is offered everywhere: but Paris is queen, honoring autumn with theatre, music, dance and the visual arts at the Festival d’Automne à Paris that runs from September to December.
Wherever the eye travels this season the décor, natural or inspired by nature, is bright, rich, and rustic. Public and private places are decorated with gourds, spiny ears of wheat, scarecrows, and leaves turned orange, red, and gold. Though autumn’s common denominator is the celebration of abundant crops, that abundance is equaled by the diversity of the dishes, peoples, and landscape across the Northern Hemisphere.