Barring emergency, Clive and I will for the first time spend all of November in the UK.
This time of year here feels – and is — very different from the USA and Australia, the two countries where I lived for many years. Halloween in the UK and Australia is much lower-key than in the US, though it’s catching up fast – a trend not appreciated by all. It’s really as we move past Halloween this coming weekend and begin November that life in the UK takes on a different feel.
November in the USA
November in Connecticut: days getting shorter, chilly temperatures, leaves falling, endless lawn-raking and great anticipation of Thanksgiving get-togethers.
Thanksgiving remains one of my all-time favourite holidays anywhere, focusing as it does on families and friends gathering to share a ‘thanksgiving feast’ – largely and mercifully missing the insidious and always-increasing commercial aspects of Halloween and Christmas.
When my son was in nursery school (pre-school), an American parents’ magazine article said mothers begin an internal chant at the end of each summer: ‘School, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I better start planning now.’
This rang true in my experience. The last three or four months of the year were indeed a one-thing-after-another series of events, albeit mostly joyful ones, full of child-oriented activities, family reunions and parental responsibilities to pull everything and everyone together.
[And if those nationwide events and holidays aren’t enough, my Connecticut daughter-in-law, whose three sons’ birthdays all fall between mid-November and mid-December, manages the annual sequence of: School, Halloween, child’s birthday, Thanksgiving, child’s birthday, child’s birthday (these two share the same date, four years apart, but their wonderful parents make the effort such that each child has individual attention and celebration) and then Christmas. It really doesn’t bear thinking about, except to say every year the parents do a brilliant job with everything.]
Upside-down Down Under – November in Australia
November in Sydney: days getting longer, warm temperatures, jacarandas blooming (one of my all-time favourite trees and for me a symbol of November Down Under), sailboats on the Harbour, spring sports underway, plus – with the school year approaching its end in mid-December – end-of-year school concerts, assemblies and performances; planning for summer vacation; and oh, by the way, Christmas.
From our first year in Australia, I marvelled – and still marvel – at the way mothers and fathers manage somehow to handle all the end-of-school-year activities and Christmas activities at the same time.
Instead of planning for Thanksgiving, our Down-Under daughter-in-law multitasks with an Aussie flavour: one email will be about her daughter’s pre-school end of year event, the next about Christmas, the next about her son’s final awards assembly. Not to forget planning for middle child’s birthday on New Year’s Eve …
Having raised children in both the US and Australia, at least in my experience and despite the seasons and school year being more or less reversed, November feels much the same in both countries: intense, child and family-focused and full of pressure and responsibilities for parents to keep everyone and everything together and on track.
November in the UK
It’s not that November is quiet on this side of the Pond – far from it. Towns and cities gear up for Christmas with fairs, fêtes, concerts, markets and of course amusing/perplexing pantomimes. (We have late-November tickets to an avowed classic, ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’ — more about this cherished form of theatre in a future post.)
But the absence of US Thanksgiving and Aussie end of the school year means most if not all of everyone’s attention is focused on Christmas, with much more time to plan and truly savour the season.
We’re no longer parents of school-age children, but every year until now have journeyed to the US in November, to spend Thanksgiving with my mother and family. Since we’ve just returned from my son’s wedding and many family get-togethers, and because my mother no longer has real awareness of particular days or dates, we decided to spend November at home this year.
Our heads are finally (well, almost) above water with regard to all our coming-home tasks; our desks are more or less clear; and the bathroom renovation guy is coming next week to start his work. While Clive supervises him, what do I hope for this November?
Without putting pressure on myself our both of us – that’s the last thing I want to do – it’s still in my nature to look ahead and consider what I’d like to accomplish during this first-time gift of November in Felixstowe.
November hopes and plans – my top 5 and looking ahead
1. Clive’s birthday
2. Our wedding anniversary
3. Attend local Christmas fairs, markets and the pantomime
4. Put up our Christmas tree the last weekend of November. This became a family tradition in the US, one year when a group from our church went to a tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut our own trees. We thought it was too early but discovered we *loved* having it up and decorated to enjoy throughout the month of December (and a major Christmas ‘to do’ was done). Since then, we’ve tried, not always successfully, to do this every year.
5. Writing: finishing the current chapter in my Paris-based memoir to a level where I can send it to a trusted instructor for professional critique. This chapter has been on again, off again for over a year – in the midst of travel and a family wedding – and I well and truly want to complete it sooner rather than later. After this chapter, I have six more to go. I’m determined to publish this book one day, though Lord only knows when as it will continue to be a balancing act since we’re also determined to travel, especially to see our families, for as long as we are able.
* Planning for Paris
Not only is Paris intertwined with the book I’m writing, the City of Light is intertwined with my life and is a constant source of joy for me, a sanctuary and a place of both excitement and comfort.
We’ll spend part of December in Paris (another reason we want to get our tree up by the end of November). I want to make time in November to anticipate and review my ongoing list of possibilities – current exhibits, Christmas markets and lights, winter walks – so we go with at least some ideas about what we’d like to do and see in the time we have there. More about Paris in December in a future post.
* and after Paris, a much-anticipated pre-Christmas visit from my son, before he returns to the US to spend Christmas with his beautiful bride and her family.
Also looming over our heads are my mother’s annual Christmas letter, which we usually do over Thanksgiving in the US, and our own Christmas letter. I suppose both of these are, ideally, projects for November, even though they don’t make my ‘Top 5’ list. We both feel we’ll regret it if we don’t complete both before we go to Paris.
For now, one thing at a time. We’re thankful to be home and looking forward to spending November, and Christmas, by the sea in England.
Wishing everyone a happy and not-too-crazy November, wherever you may be:
Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.