This afternoon I did some pre-winter cleanup around the Cold Comfort Cottage yard -- mowed the lawn, mulching up my leaves in the process (my technique for minimizing my actual raking/blowing); threw my moribund tomato plants and spent annuals onto the compost heap; deadheaded my perennials; put out my suet feeder for the cold season. It was an overcast day, threatening drizzle; like every year, I found myself feeling a little melancholy as I went about these tasks.
But there's also a joy and comfort in autumn; the joy of gathering in, of harvest. After my chores today Fellow Traveler and I went out to get pumpkins for Halloween, from an Amish farm. As we picked out our pumpkins, the family patriarch and a passel of grandchildren came in from the field with a horse-drawn wagon filled with more pumpkins, and the normally serious youngsters seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
I think that, in abandoning the festivals that acknowledge the turning of the year -- the changes of season that we all experience in both a sensory and psychological way, whether we live out in the country or in the midst of the concrete jungle -- the Church has done itself a great disservice. We really need, as faith communities, to rid ourselves once and for all of the creeping Gnosticism that finds enfleshed living distasteful and the rest of creation at best nothing more than a disposable backdrop for the cosmic drama, and the residual Puritanism that is terrified of "paganism" anytime someone experiences spiritual meaning in the natural world.
Back when my parents were young, Erntedankfest -- the German Lutheran "harvest home" festival -- was part of the Church year. This observance seemed to fall out of favor first of all when the Nazis took over the German state church and appropriated Erntedankfest for their own purposes, and then when it seemed to some to be increasingly irrelevant in modern, industrial society.
To me, to the contrary, in these days when our increased estrangement from the natural world has boded ill for the environment -- and I think for us emotionally as well -- we need to reconnect with the idea of regularly thanking God for the gift of creation. The calendar seasons also serve as metaphors for our own seasons of mind and soul and action, and I think it would probably do us all good to engage in an annual "harvest home" -- identify and give thanks for whatever gifts we've been given over the past year; share what gifts we can with others; and go about those year-end cleanup tasks of pruning and composting and putting away the spent, the superfluous, the no longer useful. Not all of us have enough hagiography in our heads to fully appreciate all the saints' days, as helpful as it is for us to remember and give thanks for the people of God of all times and places; but we all can appreciate the passing of days and seasons, and sense in them God's creative, sustaining, renewing activity around us.