“November’s sky is chill and drear, November’s leaf is red and sear.” – Sir Walter Scott
“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines” – L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Many years ago, during one of my German language exams, I had a comprehension passage about the month of November. I had to stop and read the passage several times because it touched me so deeply. I don’t remember the exact words and sadly I didn’t have the option to make a copy but I remember the feeling and the longing. I wish I had the option to make a copy so that I could preserve it because to me, it felt like a treasure.
As a child, November was my most favorite month because it was the month of my birthday. That was the only time in the year when I felt special and got special treatment. I would await from the beginning of the month for my surprise gifts. They were not expensive and they were mostly simple – like books or a coloring set or a drawing book or perhaps a new dress. But they meant a lot to me.
November was also my favorite because it was the in-between season of autumn and winter. We have two extra seasons in West Bengal, India, and this in-between season in November even has a name in Bengali – Hemanta, which is late autumn or pre-winter. There would be a dip in the temperature and a nip in the air. Time to take out the blankets finally and start preparing for the on-coming winter.
As a child, I loved to notice the change of seasons very minutely (I still do) and I enjoyed the change with all five senses. It was the time of Shiuli or Night Jasmine – the smell in the morning would be mesmerizing. The sweet fragrance of the Shiuli floating in the air would make my heart beat with unexplained longing and joy.
It was the time of Diwali – the festival of light. We would start preparing for the festival by cleaning the house and making sweets and savory treats and decorating with lights, candles, and diyas (oil lamps) at every corner. The streets would be filled with decorations and lights too.
It was the orange season again. After coming back from school, we would spend our entire afternoons on our terrace, peeling and devouring luxurious mandarins along with the entire family. We would make use of most of the sunshine.
After a long year of hot and sultry weather, followed by a four-month-long monsoon season, this was a welcome break. It was also the time to connect with the family and loved ones together on the terrace, chatting, doing homework, reading a book, looking at the clear blue sky with floating clouds, or just enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. It was a happy moment.
When I grew up and relocated to America, initially, the significance of November became a little less important to me. November was no longer as beautiful. It would mostly rain and sometimes it would even snow. Somehow I started seeing more the negative instead of enjoying the change of season that I always did. Perhaps getting adjusted to cold and damp climate from sunny hot weather took some time.
But slowly I started appreciating the month of November again. I lived near Boston and the New England area is a riot of colors during autumn. The leaves would have turned brown already in November, it’s no longer bright orange, red or crimson, but it was also the time to rest, to reflect, take refuge, and to prepare for Christmas.
November is the month of expressing gratitude. As this article states beautifully: “It’s the season of gratitude and rejoicing. Of leaves turning, and winds shifting, and wardrobes changing.” November starts with All Souls’ Day – remembering your ancestors – and ends with Thanksgiving – pausing to express your gratitude.
When I moved to Germany, I started appreciating November more. The autumn is usually a bit late in this part of the world than in New England. The leaves have just started changing color. While no other part of the world is as beautiful as the New England area in autumn, the changing of leaves is still a reminder of impermanence.
November is a quiet month after the summer frenzy and Oktoberfest – the annual beer festival.
November is the month of Gemütlichkeit. It is quite difficult to explain the term in English. Wikipedia describes it as “the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness.” It also means “coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance.”
These days, the Danish concept of Hygge has become very popular. You can roughly associate the Danish Hygge with German Gemütlichkeit. It is the time to hibernate and recharge.
In Germany, November starts with Allerheiligen – known as All Saint’s Day in English – which falls on November 1st, followed by Sankt Martin – Saint Martin’s Day – on November 11th. I loved the concept of parades and processions with school children holding lanterns in their little hands and singing “Laterne, Laterne..” and other Saint Martin songs.
The best thing in November in Germany is though, the Christmas markets. While it varies greatly from city to city, the Christmas markets usually start right before or after the Totensonntag – Sunday of the Dead – when people commemorate the departed.
The Christmas markets in Germany are a wonderful part of the tradition and a great way to lift your mood from a gloomy, rainy time to the Christmas spirit.
It’s the time of golden sunsets and hearty meals, of a long walk in the woods and twinkling lights in the Christmas markets, and of the smell of chestnuts and Glühwein.
I no longer eagerly wait throughout the year and feel excited for November to come so that I can celebrate my birthday (though I still secretly wish for a surprise gift), but I think of this month as a powerful manifestation of impermanence.
I think of this month as refuge and rest, of solitude and quiet, of gratitude and rejoice, of rebound and reset.
What is November to you?