NOVEMBER begins the ‘dark quarter’ of the year. This quarter is bracketed by Hallowmas (an old name for All Saints Day, November 1) and Candlemas (an old name for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2). The dark quarter has long been the season of fears, and chief among these is the primordial fear of the dark. Nowadays, with a flick of a switch, we are able to hold some of the darkness at bay. We’re also able, if we’re fortunate, to insulate ourselves from a number of other fears that preoccupied our ancestors---the fear of hunger, of starvation, of running out of winter fuel, of disease. However, the insulation is thin. Even with light, food, fuel and medicine, the old fears are with us still. We may have managed to make ourselves more comfortable, but we can’t keep death away.
Around the world, the late autumn and winter festivals include customs clearly intended to drive the age-old fears away. We light lamps, gather around a fire, prepare extra-hearty meals, gain a few pounds, seek out companionship, share hospitality more freely, sing and dance, reminisce, tell tall tales, dream about the future, and even escape into the refreshment of imagination and fantasy.
Here’s one way to think about the liturgical spirit of the days from November through February: Throughout these days we face our fears, and we help one another transcend and not become crippled by them.
School Year Church Year by Peter Hays (pp 118-119)