November, according to Bede, was called Blodmonath in the pre-Christian English calendar. His comments suggest that a religious event took place during this time, probably animal sacrifices to unspecified deities.
From a more pragmatic point of view, by November winter has started to really set in and herds would have to be culled to make it through the winter. Anything that couldn’t be dried, salted, pickled, smoked or preserved in some other way would have to be eaten.
Interestingly, a tradition survived until the early twentieth century in my part of Lincolnshire in which the pig fattened in the family garden was slaughtered in autumn and a plate of bits was taken round the neighbouring houses and shared. I’m not suggesting a continuity of custom, only that the same impulse – to not waste food – inspired both. In the earlier period a religious impulse added significance to the annual slaughter, while in the later period the religious impulse is redirected to chapel or church harvest festivals and the communal sharing of food remained.
I could be wrong of course.
This month, and particularly today, there is another sacrifice which we remember annually and one which inspires nationwide observation. It is, of course, Armistice Day, the commemoration of the end of the First World War. At eleven o’clock this morning work places across Britain fell silent as a mark of respect for those who fell in war, for those who were injured and to remember the non-combatant victims of wars.
The most potent symbol of the First World War, and wars that have since followed, is the poppy; fields of poppies covering the dead, paper poppies surrounding memorials, poppy pins on our coats. This symbol, blood red, reminds us of spilt blood, and also that wars end, and battle fields return to grazing land eventually.
It is such a pity we keep forgetting how vile war is.
An infographic on the above website shows us that while wars on the scale of the First and Second World Wars have become unlikely, there are more wars being fought at the minute. The scale is smaller but lives are still being lost.
Unfortunately, some organisations of dubious intent have tried to hijack the poppy and Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day for their own ends. I’m thinking of racist/fascist organisations such as the BNP and Britain First. They have tried to skew the meaning away from remembering the dead and injured towards a gross, distortion of patriotism. The Poppy Appeal raises money for a good and worthy cause, providing practical help to ex-service personnel and their families. Wearing a poppy is an indication of respect for the dead, support for the living and a reminder of the futility of war. It does not imply support for war, for many people. It would be vile if such organisations corrupted the meaning and importance of the day.