Autumnal equinox 2021: Google Doodle celebrates the beginning of fall

Wednesday's Google Doodle celebrates the beginning of the fall season with a trotting porcupine-like creature, its quills stuck in colorful foliage.

If you click on the doodle, a smattering of digital leaves falls down your screen over the Google search results for "Autumn Season."

"We wanted to celebrate the first day of fall for the Northern Hemisphere with a cute prickly critter that would be recognized in different parts of the world," says Google spokesperson Colette Garcia in a statement emailed to USA TODAY.

While the start of autumn might be synonymous with falling leaves and the return of the pumpkin spice latte to coffee shop menus, the autumnal equinox officially starts in the Northern Hemisphere when the length of day is equal to the length of night. The word equinox comes from the Latin words "aequalis" and "nox," meaning equal night. It typically starts on Sept. 22 or 23.

The official end of autumn is called the winter solstice, and typically falls between Dec. 20-23 in the Northern Hemisphere.

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For people in the Southern Hemisphere, autumn typically starts in March, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac

People around the world celebrate the autumnal equinox with food and cultural touchstones. China and Vietnam herald the arrival of the harvest moon prior to the autumnal equinox by eating mooncakes, a delicacy with an intricate outer design typically filled with red bean, lotus or dates. 

A traditional mooncake

Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her @michelle_shen10 on Twitter.