The Fall Equinox is not the first day of fall
The Winter Solstice is not the first day of winter
And the Spring Equinox is not the first day of spring either!
Why should we care? Because this is very very basic Humans Living on the Earth stuff, and yet is something 99% of us (and 100% of our calendars) get wrong. It speaks volumes about fundamental knowledge that has been lost, and especially about the way that we have been enculturated to ignore what our own senses, and the earth itself, are telling us.
As more and more of us endeavor to reclaim ancestral knowing, and to simply pay attention to the world around us, this is a really simple (but profound) mind shift to make, and an easy thing to teach to others.
What the Solstices & Equinoxes are
The Summer Solstice is simply the day, once a year, when your side of the hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun, with the sun's rays hitting the earth directly at a 90 degree angle. This makes it the longest day of the year. The Winter Solstice happens when your side of the hemisphere is tilted the farthest away from the sun, when its rays do not hit the earth directly, making it the shortest day of the year.
The Fall & Spring Equinoxes fall at a point equally in between these two days. The word Equinox shares a root with the word equal- day and night are equally long on these days.
I'm not sure how we started calling these days the "first day" of the new season, but basic observation tells us that this is simply not true.
They're the middle, not the beginning
These days were originally understood to be the midpoint, not the start, of the seasons. In the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry for the Summer Solstice is the word "midsummer". Likewise, the Winter Solstice was known to our forebears as midwinter.
In pre-Christian/patriarchal Europe the cross quarter holidays were celebrated at the midway point between the Solstices and Equinoxes. So there were eight major holidays in the year, all based on the relationship of the sun & earth.
Beltane, for example, falls around the first of May. This was celebrated as the beginning of the warm times, the light times- the beginning of summer. Six weeks later was the Summer Solstice, the midpoint. Six weeks after that was Lughnasah, which heralded the ushering out of high summer and the welcoming of fall. In another six weeks was the Fall Equinox, the midpoint of the autumn season (which started at Lughnasah).
It's interesting to note that after the Summer Solstice the days start getting shorter as the nights begin to lengthen. Though it is the high point of summer, it heralds a shift toward the dark and cold times to come.
So when do the seasons REALLY begin?
This point is the whole reason I wrote this blog post, because the answer is that-
There is no one day when a new season begins!
The transition between one season to the next is as subtle as the transition from the deepest point of night to the first light of dawn. It's a moment that cannot be pinned down, cannot be dictated by the calendar on your wall, cannot be captured with an Instagram #firstdayofsummer! hashtag.
There is no first day of fall. There is only the letting go of leaves, the fattening of roots, your part of the earth turning turning turning ever more away from the warmth of the sun until you suddenly realize that it is no longer summer.
And it's different every year. Your senses may tell you that its winter during the third week of November one year, and during the second week of December the next.
The earth is a dynamic place, and you will come to know it much better by paying attention to what is actually happening to the plants and animals and weather patterns around you every day.
In other words- your calendar is not the boss of you! Or at least it's not the boss of how you understand and live within the rhythms of the natural world. You are! So get out there, you boss ass witch, and drink in whatever today is offering.