The month of November has always been a magical time for me – as it is for many other people. As an American that is understandable; for us November really opens on Hallowe’en – All Hallows’ Eve.
Much as I dislike seeing how it is celebrated in Europe, I love it in my homeland. Especially in the crisp air of New York and New England, the day truly comes into its own: from Jack O’ Lanterns to trick-or-treaters to candy corn, it takes me back to my childhood as quickly as does Christmas.
Here in continental Europe, Hallowe’en is as out of place as McDonald’s or KFC. But All Saints and All Souls are very solemn and beautiful, with countless graves illumined from Portugal to Poland. Certainly the sombre requiems and graveyard activity underly this Month of the Holy Souls. November 3, the feast of St Hubert, is remarkable in many places for the bringing of hounds to Mass – often accompanied by hunting horns – to be blessed.
This year, I shall turn 60 on November 8, which is coincidentally the day on which JFK was elected president. But more importantly, in the Byzantine Rite it is their principal feast of St Michael the Archangel – a fact which, when I learnt about it in Junior High, explained my devotion to the Captain of Heaven’s armies.
November 11 is at once Remembrance Day and Martinmas. So on the one hand, poppies will appear in profusion through the Anglosphere (and blue cornflowers in France). On the other, the continent will see celebrations with goose and the new wine, while children in German-speaking areas parade at night with lanterns.
In 2020, November 26 will be American Thanksgiving; suspicious as I am of its Puritan roots, I do love roast turkey. St Andrew’s Day closes out the month, giving us all a vague reminder of the Burns Night Suppers awaiting Scots at home and abroad in late January.
Indeed, as the weather chills, Advent reminds us that Christmas is definitely en route.