November feels like the forgotten month.
When I was a child, we set up our Christmas tree and Christmas decorations on the day of our school holidays (so, around December 21st). That would be ludicrously late in 2018.
December 1st is a threshold of sorts — there is no Christmas music on RTE radio in Ireland before December 1st — but increasingly, when we look around, it feels like November is being taken over by the creep of Christmas commercialism.
Now, I don’t think I’m a curmudgeon or Scrooge when it comes to this time of year. I have a long list of maybe-one-day project ideas, and one of them is a collection of classic Christmas writing. (I try to read Dickens’s A Christmas Carol once a year and often spend a December hour with Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, whose rhythms are so perfect that it’s a story best read aloud.)
I never really objected when the festive street lights edged forward into the last week or two of November. The gloom of winter is long enough as it is, or it is in my part of the world.
But this year it seems to have been taken to extremes. Costa Coffee had its festive cups and t-shirts on display and yule log chocolate cake on sale from November 1st.
The beauty of being present
Over the past two years I’ve discovered the power and beauty of being present. Being exposed to Christmas accoutrements from November 1st is a subtle but very real assault on the ability to be present. It takes us out of the now and invites us to cast our minds forwards, consciously or otherwise, five, six or seven weeks into the future.
It is marketing and I’m sure it’s very effective marketing, but it leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
November is beautiful in its own right. November is way more than just after Halloween and just before Christmas.
Last Sunday, November 11th, was Martinmas (or Martinstag, or St Martin’s Day) which was an important feast day for hundreds of years in the UK and Europe, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, when all the food and drink were preserved for men, women and beasts for the short days and long nights.
November 11th was also Armistice Day, when millions all over the world remember the end of the First World War. (It is less, now, I think, a celebration of victory than a celebration of an end of bloodshed and death.)
On colder, bright days in November where I live, the colours of the leaves present a natural spectacular to anyone who takes the time to stop and breathe and look up and around.
I love Christmas. But I love all months (although February can be a challenge) and it feels like November is being squeezed from either side. And it feels like an investment in just breathing and being present in November could be a great preparation for all the festivities ahead.
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