In the northern climes of the United States, where we have a four-season year, the last third of the year is gloom and celebration.
From late September to December, we welcome the rising darkness and cold with lights and music, candy and games. We put up gaudy advertisements for our modern, secularized versions of ancient religious holidays. Both Christmas and Halloween have their origins in religious traditions; both holidays we have turned thouroughly commercial. Halloween we have secularized completely, to the extent that we forget about about All Saints' Day on November first; Halloween is called such because it was once called All Hallows Eve. What happened to Halloween is what Fox News and Charlie Brown fear happening to Christmas. Not that All Hallows Eve was ever especially reverent, any more than Christmas was; both have always been a time of celebration.
In any case, the lights are key. Halloween has its massive yard decorations, or modest jack-o-lanterns, or elaborate jack-o-lanterns; it's an opportunity for suburban neighbors to outdo each other. October is when the sunlight begins to fail. Strings of lights and yard decorations can't replace the sun, unfortunately. On the other hand, they aren't meant to. Halloween is the season when we celebrate the coming darkness. We revel in it. We call it Spooky, and imagine ghosts leaping out from behind trees, and we turn the rising gloom into a thrill.
And we buy lots of candy to give out to the young folks who brave the darkness to reach our doors. Buy, buy, buy. Buy candy. Buy lights. Buy costumes. Buy yard decorations. Buy American.
By the time the Christmas season rolls around, we're rEady to do the same damn thing again. Buy gifts, put up lights. Welcome strangers who come to your door, this time to sing. Sing along and be merry. Put up massive yard decorations and out-do your stupid neighbors once more. Enjoy the season. Celebrate the season. Glorify the season. Participate in the season, dammit, who cares if you're not Christian, everyone is having fun, why can't you. Ho ho ho.
Funny how it works out -- both holidays create their own little seasons. Both Autumn and Winter are divided into pre- and post-holiday. Each holiday season lasts about a month, and then it's over.
What happens when it's over?
The world is still dark. It's still cold.
But the celebrations are done. The songs are sung. The revelry is finished. The lights come down, the gifts are used and forgotten, the strangers come to our doors no more.
We're left with the night and the howling wind. Little we see in the post-holiday season that is ours; the world is laid bare and cold. January and November are the bleakest months. Not cruellest -- that belongs to April. But certainly the most bleak. For the year's season rolls on, and we realize that we can't take the holiday seasons into the new month. January and November are post-holiday letdown months. We are left with little sentiment to keep us warm. Earth stands hard as iron, but there is no remedy, this time, no communal revelry.
After all the fun and games, the post-holiday months are just...nothing. They're empty. November has Thanksgiving, at least, at its end, and the promise of Christmas to come. As November is sandwiched between holiday seasons, we're not left in the lurch for long. But what does January have? Snow that we're sick of by now. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And the promise of another goddamn month of winer, short as it may be.
After all the fun and games, we're suddenly out in the cold night wind.
All we can do is dig in and wait for the sun to rise.