Between the golden rays of October’s late afternoons and the cold dark days of December, there is grey November. Halloween, on the last day of October, when kids young and old delight in costuming, gather in groups and troop from house to house calling out “trick or treat,” brings a joyful end to fall.
At least every other November Election Day arrives on the first Tuesday with the thrill of victory for the winners and the agony of defeat for the losers who, in past years, accepted the decision of their peers with some modicum of grace.
The first Sunday of November may precede but often follows Election Day, with the end of Daylight Savings Time, marking the start of a more somber but thoughtful season.
On the eleventh,Veteran’s Day, we honor our military veterans and pause to remember those who did not make it home. November eleventh originally celebrated the Armistice that stopped the fighting during the First World War and as such was a day of joy mixed with remembrance for the fallen soldiers. “In Flanders field the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row…” a poem we learned in elementary school, memorialized the soldiers killed in one particularly bloody battle in Belgium. I remember that people used to wear red paper poppies on the eleventh and I think they still do at least in Canada and Europe, but it’s a tradition that has fallen away in the United States. World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” but that proved a futile dream and further wars followed, the largest being World War II that began only twenty years after the Armistice. Wars continue to this day, and so the United States changed “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day” to remember the veterans of all wars, past, present, and perhaps future. To remember and to give thanks for their service and sacrifice. Memorial Day in May also began as a day to decorate military graves, originally associated with the Civil War dead. It has developed a more general meaning now as a day to remember and visit the graves of all our loved ones.
About two weeks after Veterans Day, on the fourth Thursday, Thanksgiving, the most uniquely American celebration arrives, tracing back to the founding days of the English colonies in Massachusetts and Virginia. Though originally with religious roots, one does not have to belong to an organized religion to take the time to think about gratitude and thankfulness. For as John Donne wrote 400 years ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Others helped or shaped and guided us along the way. Experiences good and bad that we learned from. It is the greatest conceit to think that any success or good fortune we encounter is due solely to our own effort or character. Thanksgiving is a day to remember the past with gratitude and give thanks for any current good fortune.
Still, there are those whose lives are so bleak and awful that they may not be able to find anything positive to be thankful for. We who are in better circumstances can try to help by ‘paying it forward” however we can and in doing so, recognize in a way, the ones who helped us.
It feels right that Thanksgiving is a day for family gatherings, for dining together with those with whom we share a past, rather than a raucous party day—though of course there is football. A more quiet time before the overwhelming rush of the Christmas season that arrives impatiently the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday. Now it’s as if there’s no time to be lost once gratitude is out of the way to proceed to the business of Christmas. But first, before the harried shopping and spending, I am glad there is a time to remember and to give thanks.