November never seems like a normal, peaceful month. Unlike, say June or August, November allows too many events to crowd themselves into its few weeks.
As a child, I felt bewildered by how busy the first week always used to be. And, I must admit, I also felt slightly resentful that my birthday on 4th November could be overshadowed by so many important church and secular events.
All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, Guy Fawkes Night and the Melbourne Cup all crammed themselves into the week. Thank goodness my parents celebrated our birthdays with presents and parties and cakes with candles. My big day also felt important.
All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days
All Saints’ Day on November 1 celebrates all those people, canonised or not, alive and dead, whom we recognise as living good and holy lives. We recall the ways their example or love influenced us. Once a ‘holy day of obligation’, on which Catholics were expected to attend Mass, it also meant a school holiday.
I still like to go to Mass on the day. This year, the peaceful celebration with quietly smiling friends and the priest’s gold vestments encouraged joyful participation.
On November 2, All Souls’ Day, Catholics commemorate their dead. We remember, in a different way, the people we’ve loved and lost. Mass in our parish church attracted a large crowd. Sombre purple vestments and music set the tone. The newly bereaved wept openly. Maybe as important as All Saints Day, but not much fun!
Not strictly November
Halloween, unheard of until the 1980s in Australia, precedes All Saints Day. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people lit bonfires and wore scary costumes to ward off ghosts. These days children and teenagers dress up in ghoulish costumes and knock on strangers’ doors expecting treats, carving jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins, and festive gatherings.
Why Guy Fawkes?
Guy Fawkes day originated as a celebration of the failure in Britain of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Some Catholics planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament to protest against the lack of religious freedom they experienced. The plot failed. The plotters died at the hands of the executioner. The Parliament declared a national day of thanksgiving.
The occurrence of two church feasts, a major horse race and Guy Fawkes day in one week would confuse any child!
For weeks before the big celebration, the older children in our street and many of the adults piled material to burn into a heap in the middle of a vacant block. They collected fireworks ready for the celebration.
At dusk, the grown-ups lit the fire and * flames shot into the air. Crackers and fireworks exploded all around. Not only our fire, but others also exploded into life. Fireworks lit the sky for miles around the city. Such scary fun!
In a country as dry, hot and prone to bushfires, as Australia, Guy Fawkes night did not send a good message to anyone. Whatever were were we thinking?
After a spate of serious accidents in which children were burnt and their eyes severely damaged, the Western Australian government banned the celebration of Guy Fawkes night in 1980. The use of fireworks became illegal except under certain controlled conditions.
The Melbourne Cup
On the first Tuesday of November, Melbourne Cup Day, Australia celebrates the running of a horse race, ‘the race which stops the nation’. Until recently, no self-respecting person would admit to not watching the race on television. Those who could not attend bet on the race or participated in workplace or neighbourhood sweeps.
Now? Well, not so much. Increasing awareness of the cruelty involved in horse-racing means that some of the shine has gone from this peculiarly Australian event.
Still to come in November
- Remembrance day, 11 November, when we remember members of the armed forces who died while on duty. Sometimes known as Poppy Day.
- Stir Up Sunday, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent, when members of my family will hopefully come for breakfast and help me make the Christmas puddings. The day gets its name from the beginning of the psalm in the liturgy on that day. It begins, ‘Stir up your hearts…’
- First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the season of preparation for Christmas.
In November, we can look forward to increasingly hot days, the appearance of locally grown stone fruit and commercial Christmas reminders in the shops.
*Flame – this weeks prompt from my friend Sue Walker and her colleague, GJ on their site Weekly Prompts.