Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finally - My Favorite Time of Year Returns

I tend to feel more joy this time of year; once we pass the autumn Ember days (mid-September), the days start getting cooler, the leaves start changing, the bugs start dying, the air starts to fill with chimney smoke at night, and the constellations start to change (my buddy Orion is coming back). As autumn is in full force, the warmer clothes and blankets come out. No more air conditioning and there are more nights and days of open windows and fresh air. I start making more "cool weather" recipes, like soups, stews, and my South Beach oven-roasted nuts recipes (many of which are my favorite recipes).

Columbus Day arrives, a day which I continue to honor, as it brought the Catholic faith to the Western Hemisphere. As we proceed through October, the houses all around start to be decorated for the holidays. I love Halloween - not just because of all the holiday programs and the happy memories of homemade costumes and trick-or-treating, but also because it is All Hallow's Eve, the vigil of All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is followed by All Souls Day and the month (November) dedicated specifically for prayers for the souls in Purgatory. Indulgences for the souls are granted to us through praying in a cemetery (what's more Halloween than that?). Autumn decorations abound, with houses dressed in scarecrows, pumpkins and gourds, stalks of indian corn, and (at least for now) imagery of pilgrims and Native Americans. Thanksgiving is falling out of fashion, due to the guilty conscience of progressive Americans, but as a Christian, I still believe it's important to give thanks to God for our bounty; also, thank God we have a four day weekend!

When growing up, we always waited until Thanksgiving weekend to decorate the house for Christmas. As a Catholic, I've tried to embrace the season of Advent, using the time to meditate on the prayers of the season and the writings of the Church Fathers as we anticipate the Nativity of Our Lord (as well as the second coming of Christ); I also own a CD of beautiful hymns of the Advent season. Houses get decorated with lights, Nativity scenes, and Christmas (or winter) decorations. Christmas shows are on tv and Christmas (or winter) music is on the radio and playing in the stores. The weather starts to turn very cold and if we're lucky, we'll get to see a little snow. The nights are dark, turning into nightfall as early as 5pm. I usually set up the Nativity set the first Sunday of Advent (it is traditional that you refrain from placing the baby Jesus in the set until Christmas Eve, but most times I'm lazy and put him in the scene the day I set it up). I've always said that if I do put up a tree (tree lots have popped up everywhere), I would wait until after the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday (and if I really wanted to push it, I would refrain from decorating the tree and apartment until the fourth Sunday of Advent, although that's in a perfect world).

Christmas comes, my favorite holy day and season. As I've mentioned elsewhere, in the Catholic Church we celebrate the "day" of Christmas for eight days; we celebrate Christmastide for 12 days (the 12 Days of Christmas), and the season of Christmas until February 2. I love the "classic" Christmas songs (like Rudolph, Frosty, Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, etc.) but I can't stand most of the Christmas music on the radio (most of which never mention Christmas unless it's the day of when the singer is proposing to get together with their love). Of course, I love the Christmas carols we're all familiar with (the ones sung in Church); I had bought a radio several years ago that allows me to plug in my ipod (which has since died) specifically so that I could play Christmas music in my living room.

Although New Year's approaches quickly after Christmas, for me it's more of a celebration of the eighth day of Christmas and the day where we mark both the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Through January and into the first days of February, we mark the visit of the Magi, the circumcision of our Lord, the baptism of our Lord, and the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It's all about anticipation: autumn points to winter, which points to spring. Advent points to Christmas, which points to Easter. This time of year reminds me of all my happy childhood memories, of which they are innumerable. It also reminds me of the days and life to come. I can't help but enjoy this time of year, every year, and look forward to the life to come when every day will be eternal rest and joy.