In which I stand athwart November yelling, “Stop!”
The day after Halloween I was horrified to discover some of my social media friends announcing that it was time to start playing “Christmas” music. Some of these friends are even putting up a tree, baking cookies, and enjoying hot chocolate. Sure enough, on November 1st some stores began blaring the musical news that “Santa Claus is coming to town,” and rushed to deck the retail halls with boughs of imitation holly.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not really a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I love the season as much as anyone else. But here I raise my Ebenezer: in order to really keep Christmas, we need November.
In the years before Halloween became a multi-billion dollar industry, November 1st was the day most Americans packed away costumes and sent the jack’ o’ lanterns to their eternal rest on the compost heap. Some of the less-desirable candy may have lingered for a few days, but for the most part, we moved into the next season, which was not Christmas.
But it was more than “not Christmas.” Although I grew up in central Florida, which features little, if any, seasonal change, our school teachers punctually changed the bulletin board decor on November 1st to reflect the natural beauty occurring in more northern regions. Out were pumpkins, bats, and ghosts, and in were colorful leaves, turkeys, pilgrims and Native Americans. We learned about our history, both good and bad, and prepared to celebrate an official day of thanks-giving.
In addition to Thanksgiving celebrations, in some years November general elections bring at least a temporary reprieve from political campaigning (unless you live in Broward County, Florida), and we pause to remember our service men and women on Veteran’s or Remembrance Day. The month seems to be filled with opportunities for reflection on less material values.
We might consider November as a kind of fast. Although fasting has a negative connotation, it has many benefits. Scientists have learned that fasting from food improves health, and when I’m fasting from social media and ‘screens’ I’m very productive in other ways. Without the smart phone in hand, I experience quality time with real live humans, read good books, and think out my next article. When we fast, or set something aside, we do not enter a void. Rather we replace one thing with another; fasting can lead to deeper contemplation, insightful prayer, greater appreciation of nature, and cultivation of our relationships.
And when our fast is completed, our celebration is so much richer and genuine. The Christmas celebration is for the birth of a savior. But unless we recognize our need for a savior, perhaps through remembrance, contemplation, or metaphorical time in the wilderness, the Christ-mass is reduced to a meaningless, materialist celebration of consumption. If you want to really understand Christmas, you need to set aside a November.
Properly observed, November allows for a more thoughtful, reflective, and thankful season; a much-needed pause between the excitement of Halloween and Christmas. Please don’t Christmas our November; November is a rich and beautiful time of year filled with its own observances and customs. And if we keep Christmas in its rightful place, we can truly keep Christmas in our hearts.