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BERNSTEIN: Enjoy fall while it lasts

Column: Mind You

Falls comes and goes quickly, so make sure you take a moment to enjoy the foliage.  – Photo by Pixabay.com

Even from within New Brunswick's noisy cityscape, gelid whispers in the breeze and the occasional crackle of a fallen maple leaf caught underfoot have once again heralded the beginning of autumn. Humid summer nights give way to crisp moonlit evenings, tank top barbeques turn to flannel shirt bonfires and jugs of apple cider fill supermarket shelves.

I must admit that, for a while, I did not really understand the love for the year's latter months. The stretch of time between late September and the New Year always seemed like a string of commercialized festivities meant to distract us from declining weather and widespread transmission of disease.

Halloween in particular had always struck me as excessively camp: Since my early teens I had been self-conscious about the prospects of celebrating it, and cynical about its cultural value. 

I suppose I looked down on what I had considered at the time to be a period of perfunctory celebration, as well as the implication that we needed holidays to remind us to be cheerful as the year winded down.

Or maybe I never felt intensely drawn to community traditions, barring those of my own immediate family. I have to imagine that much of secular America feels similarly apathetic, or at the very least unattached, to the customary menu of national merriments — not necessarily a disdain, but a lack of emotional investment.

But I plan to adopt a different attitude this autumn, and if you have been planning to skip out on all the quirks and simple pleasures of 2021's remaining months, I suggest you think twice as well.

Yes, engaging in community holidays and ceremonies can feel forced, especially if we do not strongly identify with the spirit of the tradition or if we feel that the tradition has been degraded by consumerist impulses.

But in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, should we really be dismissing opportunities for conviviality? There is a reason that holiday traditions are such a cross-cultural phenomenon: they are celebrations of humanity first and foremost.

And yes, Halloween is a bit silly. But perhaps it is ok to have a reason to be frivolous in the modern day. Most of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives are already absurd, somehow full of both naïve fantasy and unwarranted fatalism. So why not embrace a gentle sort of ridiculousness?

Last weekend, for example, I went to the homecoming football game against Michigan State, and I was pleasantly surprised at how unabashedly corny the event was (I do not, it should be said, frequently attend such games). If we hold no reservations about watching a horse prance about a football field, perhaps we can allow ourselves to play dress-up once a year in the name of collective joy and understanding.

I should also note that some of fall and early winter's greatest attractions are not, in fact, artificial at all. Prismatic trees, apple-picking, pumpkin carving –– all of these are quite natural features of the season, features which encourage a sort of sensory mindfulness and an appreciation of the present moment. Ironically, for a season without much in the way of flora, fall is one of the best times of the year to "stop and smell the roses," at least metaphorically.

It is easy to scoff at festivity and downplay natural beauty, especially at the height of midterms season and more generally, in the throes of late adolescence. But if an evening walk in autumn or a midnight costume party helps us to connect with the world, then so be it. We do ourselves a greater service by opening to experience than by spending our entire lives rejecting the wonderful oddities of the present.

Daniel Bernstein is a School of Arts and Sciences junior looking to major in cell biology and neuroscience and mathematics. His column, "Mind You," runs on alternate Mondays. 


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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