Friday, October 11, 2013

The endless succession of days

Fall day along the Montée St. Maurice
Living abroad means missing things about your home country you might not have taken note of before. One aspect of life in the United States I never gave any thought to was how we mark time, as a nation placing ourselves firmly within a season. It is October in France and other than the change in weather, I feel a bit like I’m lost at sea with no land in sight. There are no seasonal decorations in the stores, no flyers posted in town urging families to visit the local apple orchard or pumpkin patch, and no holidays listed on the calendar until Christmas.

School children have a two-week long holiday called Toussaint (All Saints) starting next week, but nothing happens on the actual day of Toussaint (November 1) other than the handful of observant Catholics who attend mass and fall cemetery maintenance for those who've lost loved ones. There are no Toussaint foods or decorations. No parades or sports traditions. Toussaint breaks up the fall semester, but does little else to tell you where you are in the year. My daughter and I wanted to give the apartment a holiday feel, and we had to make our own decorations with construction paper because these kinds of things simply are not sold in France. Life here ambles on in an endless succession of days, without fuss or the need to spend lots of money.

Halloween is a do-it-yourself venture in France
In the U.S. there is a complex system of religious and civil holidays as well as media and sporting events to mark the seasons. Right now baseball season is winding down, with the World Series scheduled for October 23. A week later, basketball season begins. Football season is already under way. It is fall festival season as well. Americans are going on hay rides, apple picking, and choosing their pumpkins for Halloween. Kids are deciding what to be when they go trick or treating and parents are looking for candy sales. Coffee shops feature pumpkin spiced latte, chocolate nutmeg, and salted caramel flavors. Gift shops are pushing scented candles with names like fall harvest, caramel apple, and cinnamon spice. Neighborhoods are decked out for Halloween and fall with scarecrows sitting on porch rockers guarding jack-o-lanterns, ghosts floating in the trees, and warm-colored leaf wreaths on front doors.

Ripening cherry-sized apples that grow
everywhere in northwestern France
Soon the Halloween decorations will come down and the Christmas ones will go up. Radio stations will work Christmas music into the playlist on November 1 and radio personalities will constantly remind us how many shopping days are left. We’ll eat turkey and watch football on Thanksgiving. We’ll put up Christmas trees and fight the mall crowds to get the shopping done. We’ll argue over saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas”. Gift stores will carry a small selection of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa items.

When the holidays are over, we’ll clean up and get ready for the Super Bowl. A few weeks later we’ll watch the Academy Awards and make our picks for March Madness. We’ll go to St. Patrick’s Day parties even if we’re not Irish or Catholic and then we’ll switch wearing of the green for Easter pastels. Baseball season will start, heralding the end of winter, and soon it will be Memorial Day, the official start of summer and a time to decorate the house, our food, and ourselves in red, white, and blue. On Labor Day, we put those things away and get ready for fall.

In the U.S. you always know where you are in the year. There’s a signpost for everyone: parties, decorations, foods, sports, religion, coffee flavors, and candle smells. It can be materialistic and wasteful, but it’s damn fun and I miss it.




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