By Juniper Bell On Sep 22 2011, 2:00 am
When I moved to Alaska, I had no idea I’d start celebrating a whole different set of holidays. Winter Solstice? Never thought about it before. Spring Equinox? Who cares about that? Well, Alaskans are very aware of these events because they mark the changing of the light. Tomorrow, September 23, 9:04 UTC will mark the Autumn Equinox, the moment at which the sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward. Tomorrow, around the world, day will roughly, though not precisely, equal night.
From then on, for us in Alaska, it’s all downhill. The darkness lasts longer every night until by Winter Solstice we’re down to a few hours of light a day. Unless you live near the equator, you too will notice the shortening days and lengthening nights–or the reverse, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. In Alaska, so far north of the equator, the change is extreme and dramatic.
So how do you celebrate the moment when the descent into darkness begins? Here where I live, we celebrate with fire. The community spends all summer creating a huge structure on the beach in the shape of a basket. It’s made of branches, local plants, woven grass, and hundreds of handwritten cards in which people write their wishes, goodbyes to loved ones, thanks to those killed in battle, and so forth. For our Equinox celebration, the basket gets torched at sunset to the sound of solemn communal singing. Then the drums start thumping and fireworks explode. Kids run around the bonfire with sparklers, fire dancers fling balls of fire in wild patterns around their gyrating bodies. This year we even had fire jump-ropers. By the time the bonfire burns out, you’re okay with the onset of winter because you realize we’re all in it together.
Here are a few photos of this year’s Burning Basket, which is always held the last weekend night before Fall Equinox.
Happy Equinox. Bring on the dark!