As you get older, some things happen more frequently—like paying bills and spending hours on the phone with insurance companies—and some things happen less—like classroom parties for every minor holiday of the year and three months of summer vacation. One of the hardest things for me to adjust to as an adult was the lack of clear markers that the year was progressing. As a kid I knew I could count on the number of days until the the school assembly that meant classes were cut short all day or the number of “sleeps” until Santa Claus arrived. Even in college I spent particularly tedious classes thinking about how many hours remained until I could meet my friends for drinks. But when you’re a grown-up, all that flies right out the window. You get up, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to bed, and do it again. While there are tiny interruptions by weekends, it’s largely personal responsibility to break the monotony and establish things to look forward to. Sometimes it can feel like you’re going absolutely nowhere.

While I’ve shed most of my recognition of holidays established during my religious upbringing, I find it helpful to observe quarter and cross-quarter days as a way of marking time. Sometimes I borrow established cultural elements to help mark these days, other times I simply let the day pass normally but with a small mental nod that, for example, autumn is halfway through. We’ve just now passed the fourth cross-quarter day of the year, which Western European humans from whom I learned my traditions have variously recognized as Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Eve, and Winternacht. I build fires, incorporate squash and cinnamon into every meal I can possibly wedge them inside, snuggle with my cats, and hang lights on my house because it’s comforting and cozy—compensating for the rising dark. We tell ourselves that in 2012 we’re far too sophisticated to honor those old rituals but we do, just hidden in the guise of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes.

I’ve actually been trying to write this post for weeks now and I’m not even genuinely sure if it now encompasses everything I wanted to express but it seems fitting anyway to publish it on this American feast day celebrating the harvest, our labor, and the good health of our friends and family (but of course, we’re too civilized for that Pagan nonsense—right?). If you, my dear reader, see this today between your helpings of mashed potatoes or while you’ve snuck away from the inevitable family drama, keep in mind that this too shall pass. Just a month now until the winter solstice and before you know it, there will be buds appearing on the trees. Acknowledge the things that are troubling, cherish the things worth holding on to, celebrate them in the best ways you know how—with food and games and song—and move forward.

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