At this time of year, as the evenings draw in and nature goes into its annual decay, we spend time remembering. The leaves are falling and the migrant birds have flown. In terms of festivals the Christian Feast of All Saints or All Hallows is preceded by Hallowe’en and succeeded by All Souls. All Saints being a time when we remember the elect who went before and are now in Heaven, on Hallowe’en we traditionally try to ward off the evil spirits and on All Souls we remember the departed. The veil between this world and the next seems at its most thin.
It is also a time of year when we remember the survival of our institutions of Monarch in Parliament on Guy Fawkes’ Night and in burning the eponymous effigy, we attempt the re-enactment of extirpation of menace from the Kingdom. We are exhorted to remember the fifth of November. We remember again on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day those who have fallen in defence of these Islands. With the centenary of the Great War next year, there will be much remembering of the young men who died for us in the trenches.
It is a time of year when elderly relatives who are unwell or frail often sadly pass, as the weather turns colder. For many then there is a personal remembering of departed loved ones.
So at this time of year we are most conscious of the past and the eternal. We remember the cloud of witnesses that surround us in Heaven. We remember those we miss too.
At such a time, when those who went before feel so close, we sometimes realise that the past is not another country to misquote Harold Pinter, but the same country. People lived on the land where our houses now sit. People before us looked at the same hills on the horizon. For many of us our own relatives lived in the vicinity or the same country for centuries before now.
As Housman wrote:
“Then, ‘twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.”
There has been a constant stream of events linking us all the way back. Ancient Briton, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Viking and later migrations all were gradually absorbed. We are all therefore connected to the past and while it does not define us, there is no breach between us and our forebears, but a continuous stream of people and events. That is why traditions and institutions that bind one generation to the next are important for a nation. If we lose the sense that we are linked with those who went before, thinking only the novel and new matters we become shallow and lose touch with who we are.
Following traditions mean we acknowledge our link with our ancestors. We celebrate the same feasts, are subject to the same Crown, are married and committed to the next world in the same ancient churches, live in the same land. So at this time of year we can be especially conscious of our belonging to the country and the past. By remembering the past we remember who we are, forget it and we break the bonds that hold us together.