I really don’t like the month of November, and so when I learned that November’s adjectival form, Novemberish, means “dreary,” I wasn’t at all surprised. I love autumn which symbolizes so many good things to me–the start of the school year, cooler days, and Halloween. I didn’t get to join in the fun of Halloween much growing up, with parents who thought such American traditions odd (“You want to dress up in strange clothes and beg for candy from our neighbors? No.”) and so I thoroughly enjoy Halloween as an adult, with an annual Halloween costume party, dry ice in my apple cider for that spooky effect, and lots of candy.
After Halloween though, I’ve always felt the sadness of having nothing to look forward to anymore. Though it is considered part of autumn, November feels bleaker, as the wind blows away the brilliance that dazzles us after the warmth of summer, stripping us down to bare branches.
Growing up in Michigan, I dreaded dreary November, knowing it would bring the Northern chill and gray skies with it. Here in this desert place in which we’ve settled, the chill comes mainly at night. We’ve put most of our plants to bed, and rain has been more frequent, a blessing in this arid place. We’ve harvested the last of the first successful tomato planting for this brown-thumbed woman.
This is All Saints’ Day which marks every first day of November, a holy day, and so I’m trying to think of November as a time of gestation, a sacred rebirth and time of building. Though we tend to focus on the famous, better known saints such as Joan of Arc (my middle daughter’s personal favorite) or St. Francis (the pope’s namesake), saints are actually thought of as those who’ve attained heaven. My grandma died in November, and so I think of her frequently at this time of year, missing her wisdom and the never-ending prayers she spent countless hours in, seeking peace and protection for her loved ones.
It is thought that originally All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day was tied together as a way to co-opt Samhain in the Scottish Highlands (as many Church holy days were all over the world) As my fellow Outlander readers know, it is considered “a thin time” in which the links between the world and other places are more open.
“The dark came down on All Hallows’ Eve. We went to sleep to the sound of howling wind and pelting rain, and woke on the Feast of All Saints to whiteness and large soft flakes falling down and down in absolute silence…This is the thin time, when the beloved dead draw near. The world turns inward, and the chilling air grows thick with dreams and mystery. The sky goes from a sharp clear cold where a million stars burn bright and close, to the gray-pink cloud that enfolds the earth with the promise of snow.” –Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes
In the Southwestern tradition, we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which recognizes that death is a part of life, and honors it, instead of fearing it or indulging in sadness, with parades and make-up featuring calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls). Though this is a fact I deal with in my work as a physician assistant, this November I’m going to try to celebrate the lives of those who have died instead of mourning their loss in my life, thinking instead of what I’ve learned from having been blessed to have them in my life. In Mexico, it coincides with the Dia de los Innocentes, a day dedicated to deceased children, making it even more fitting that we think of November as a month pregnant with possibilities.
I’m challenging myself to write a little every day, or a lot if the Spirit moves me, and to remember all the brilliance that precedes this month and using it to light my way through to the hope of heaven and rebirth. I invite you to rethink November as well, to try to redefine Novemberish in your own way. What will you do to push back the grayness that threatens overhead? What can you build in this month that rewrites Novemberish into the 9th month again?
Today I am thankful for a sunshine-filled All Saints’ Day, for a faith that does not shy away from honoring our dead, and for writers that inspire me to keep reaching for heaven.