originally published November 1, 2013
It never fails. You’re meandering through the crispy clutter of October’s autumn, steering clear of the path-side puddle of vomit from over-candied children, breathing the warm scent of massacred pumpkins, when suddenly the ground gives way and you plummet head-first into that fetid murk known as November.
Here in the grotesquely northern chunk of Canada, we refer to November as the It-Will-Get-Damn-Cold month, or at least we will as soon as I can get it to catch on. November is the year’s punishment for passivity. Its only sanctioned holiday is a sad and reflective one, and we have to endure the agony of missing at least one and a half NFL games because our employers won’t acknowledge American Thanksgiving as a sort-of holiday. Daylight Savings Time ends, and suddenly the journey home from work becomes a race against the setting sun.
Well screw it. With a thirty-day sentence in the muckiest month of the calendar I believe we deserve to celebrate something. Okay, a lot of you have birthdays in November. That’s great, you have a little thumbtack of joy amid this great barren corkscape. For the rest of us, what do we get? Well…
Once upon a time, Americans had a huge celebration every November, and it had nothing to do with turkey or shopping. November 25 was once Evacuation Day, a celebration of that fateful day in 1783 when the final snippet of British authority plunked its muskets on a boat and sailed out of New York. This was a holiday of July 4 proportions. Kids would symbolically climb greased poles in Battery Park to tear down Union flags, and adults would lift steins of liquid hoorah in honor of the nation’s first genuine victory. Then two things killed it: Mexicans and Lincoln.
In 1844, it was pretty clear that America would be suiting up once more for war, this time against Mexico. The holiday began to lose its fizzle around this time, but when Abe Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a thing in 1863, Evacuation Day slunk quietly out of the room like a Chuck Cunningham, never to play basketball again.
And speaking of Happy Days, this month is about the happiest time for American Jews.
This month marks an appearance of an astoundingly rare calendar-bird known as Thanksgivukkah. The first day of Hanukkah shows up on November 28, which is also Thanksgiving. Why did this happen? The Hebrew calendar runs on a lunisolar calendar, bumping and nudging its months around our Gregorian calendar by the light of the full moon.
On the one hand, Hanukkah ranks relatively low on the Jewish holiday hit parade, but carries a lot of shiny publicity for its tendency to drop in around Christmas. On the other, these days don’t sync up very often. It last happened in 1888, and it apparently won’t happen again for another 79,043 years. I say we should crack open the Manischewitz and unleash our hungry collective maw on some turkey with challah stuffing and a side of latkes.
Here’s your challenge, aspiring scribes of long-form fiction. 50,000 words between now and November 30. A fresh idea, doesn’t matter if you’ve thought it through, just go. I’ll only be writing 30,000 words this month – this is a true test of the creative mind. You will need to breathe this story for a solid month, you’ll need to dream of it at night. It doesn’t matter if you make poor choices or slip into pedantic language or end it with the most atrocious deus ex machina this side of The Hobbit’s eagles. Even if it ends up purely rotten on all fronts, IT DOESN’T MATTER! Just write it. It’s National Novel Writing Month.
The project has a website. You will have proof of your triumph, a community of other anguished plot-device crutch-seekers to keep you accountable. This will make the difference; there is simply no way I’d be planting my flag in Day 671 today if the anonymous shadowy eyes of the internet weren’t at least somewhat cast on this world-wide-dais. I’m already doing my time in the non-fiction realm, but come next November I might be ready to punch my fingers into this kind of madness.
The first Thursday of November is National Non-Fiction Day, so my muse gets a little trophy too. Except it’s an annual celebration of children’s non-fiction, which is not my area of expertise. Parents really shouldn’t let their kids read the articles herein, if only because I often drop cripplingly antiquated pop culture references, like Chuck Cunningham.
Every year I bemoan the unforgiving commercialization of Christmas, and every year that commercialization hits its terminal velocity in late November, during that ominous tryptophan hangover known as Black Friday. I’m still not clear why Canada now celebrates Black Friday when our Thanksgiving is six and a half weeks old by then. And for those of us who want to fight the yuletide shopping urge, we can celebrate Buy Nothing Day.
This occurs not coincidentally on the same day as Black Friday. So you can stand proudly behind your sense of virtue while those other schmucks clamber over one another’s collapsing frames in a frantic grab for the last juicer in the west end Target. Still, $35 is a pretty incredible price for that model. And they’ll only have 25 per store. Dammit.
As brilliant as National Novel Writing Month may be, I believe this one should become a national thing. We all know Best Buy and Lowe’s are going to pull in a mint on Black Friday and its fast-growing sister, Cyber Monday. But tucked in the middle of this busily-named weekend is Small Business Saturday, a day to make a point of spreading some of that stocking-stuffing spending cash with a local merchant.
American Express started pitching this around the social media spiderweb back in 2010. Over a million people took the time to click ‘Like’ on the Small Business Saturday Facebook page. Buy Nothing Day will never reach its stride – people like to shop more than they like to make a statement. But Small Business Saturday is a calendar square I’ll support.
But could we make it a Friday? I’d really love an extra day off work near the end of the month. Or maybe the Thursday… the Cowboys and Raiders might be a good game this year.