This is the first in what I hope will be a series of reflections on each month of the year. I have always thought of November as a kind of in-between month. Is it the end of autumn or the beginning of winter? A bit of both in reality. The clocks have gone back and darkness begins to prevail and it is getting colder. However we do not normally get the bitter cold that you associate with winter proper. In fact we still have some summer bedding plants in flower.
There isn’t much in the way of snow either. Though we did have a snowfall towards the end of the month last year. However this was unusual as in recent years there has been no snowfalls in Dundee during November. Perhaps in the more distant past it did snow more often in November. Certainly that is what my memory tells me. But my memory is not what it used to be - if it ever was that good anytime.
November is of course a month for celebrations and commemorations. The 11th is Remembrance Day and the two minutes silence is acknowledged a bit more now than a few decades ago. I can still remember parading through the streets of St. Andrews with the Scouts on Remembrance Sundays. These were usually bitter cold days. I can’t say that I much enjoyed or appreciated the event. Nowadays I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. It is fine to honour the dead, but it is too often wrapped up in support for “our boys” who when not getting killed themselves, manage to kill very large numbers of Afghan civilians. I will feel more willing to honour our dead when we as a country have given up invading and killing others.
On a happier note this is also the month of Thanksgiving for our American cousins and friends. I have just discovered that this is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. This is by American standards a very ancient feast and dates back to at least the 17th century. I hadn’t realized that Thanksgiving Day was also celebrated in Canada. Though there it is held on the second Monday in October - apparently because autumn comes earlier in Canada. Anyway Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends and a belated greeting to our Canadian friends.
We have nothing similar over here in the UK. Harvest festivals do take place though even when I was a child they never amounted to much. We do of course have Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night as it is probably more commonly known. Held on the 5th of November to commemorate the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, this was a very popular event. When I was young nearly everyone had their own bonfire in their garden. The highlight was the setting off of fireworks - the more and the louder the better. It could also be quite frightening as some children liked nothing better than throwing loud bangers at other children. It could also be dangerous for those who liked to experiment with their own fireworks. A boy who was at school with me lost a hand while trying to make his own gunpowder. Nowadays thankfully most firework displays are well organized by the local council or some other local group.
In Scotland we have our own festive day at the end of November when we celebrate St. Andrews Day. I intend to devote a post to this event later in the month.
November is also a pretty significant month in the history of the Rutherfords, or at least my particular branch of the Rutherfords. Unfortunately this includes the anniversary of deaths. My maternal grandmother, Jessie Henderson died on 25th November 1975. I remember her well as a small and wiry old woman Her husband died in 1939 and she lived on her own for many years in a one room flat at the top of a tenement in Dundee. We used to visit her there. It had an outside stairwell and an outside loo. The bed was sort of built into the wall. She had all kinds of old utensils for spinning and washing. It was always a great adventure visiting her. She died in her nineties. My paternal great-great grandmother, Mary Cunningham died on 29th November 1914, 79 years old. I think she died in St. Andrews.
More happily, November is also the month when many of my ancestors got married. Including my own parents, who were married in Dundee on 2nd November, 1931. This is a photo of them probably taken shortly before they were married.
They managed to celebrate their 60th anniversary together with a grand family reunion in the Golf Hotel in St.Andrews. At least four other marriages took place in the month of November. The earliest was on 12th November 1815 between James Rutherford and a Janet Mair in Dunbog in North East Fife. They are my great-great-great grandparents. Then on 25th November 1853 John Rae and Catherine MacFarlane were married in Perth. They are my great-great grandparents and the great grandparents of my mother. Their daughter, Agnes Rae was married on 28th November 1873 in Perth to John Melville. They were the parents of Jessie and my mother’s grandparents. Finally on 16th November 1877, my great grandparents James Rutherford and Catherine Rodgers were married.
It seems that each month is associated with a particular gemstone. Sometimes called the birthstone, there are at least four different traditions for naming a birthstone, including a Tibetan, Ayurvedic and a modern American one. Luckily in the case of November they mostly agree that yellow topaz is the birthstone for this month.
There is also apparently a tradition of associating each month with a flower. The flower for November is the chrysanthemum which symbolizes compassion, friendship, and secret love. Hence the photo of chrysanthemums at the beginning of this post
November has also unfortunately become the month for starting Christmas preparations. Just about every shop is already full of Christmas decorations. TV and newspapers are full of adverts for Christmas gifts and calls to book now your Christmas lunch/dinner or outing. This is one of the worst things about November. Christmas is fine, we should not be bombarded with Christmas stuff before the beginning of December at the earliest.
Anyway I hope you all enjoy the rest of this November.