Approaching the end of October, you can't miss the fact that the shops are already gearing up for Christmas - the Chapelfield lights are "officially" turned on this week, Thursday I think, to coincide with late night shopping. And between now and 25th December, we, of course, have two other important festivals - Halloween and Bonfire Night. The shop windows are already jostling each other to fill up the space with plastic pumpkins and fake fangs, or fireworks and boxes of toffee, or the usual seasonal fare of snowflakes and presents. It's all crept up on us, I think, the association of these traditional festivals with unending amounts of plastic stuff and the unrelenting push to buy things.
We were up at Bewilderwood with the girls yesterday, and they had some wonderful real pumpkin lanterns, and jam-jars with tea-lights in, dotted around the trees. We made lanterns out of willow and tissue paper - very tricky if you've never done anything like that before. We went home before the sunset parade - it was cold and we were all hungry - but I imagine it must have been magical amongst the trees. OK, Bewilderwood isn't the cheapest day out, but they'd clearly thought hard about what they wanted to do for Halloween.
Tully wrote a wonderful piece about Bonfire Night a while back, and it's well worth reading in the run up to next weekend's public firework displays. I do love fireworks - I know they're probably not environmentally sound - and I love a good bonfire. Being something of a hippie at heart, watching fireworks always reminds me how lucky we are to be able to watch what are essentially controlled explosions safely, unlike so many people throughout the world and throughout history, for whom a skyburst display like that would be something to fear and hide from during all the wars that have been fought since gunpowder was invented.
Now, Christmas - can I offer one suggestion for all those thinking about Christmas shopping? Ask people what they want. Don't wander into a store and buy whatever's on special offer. Your recipient probably won't really, really want a Simpsons' mug and coaster set, or a packaged mortar and pestle set with authentic chinese spices. If they did, they'd probably already have them. If they do harbour a secret unrequited wish to drink coffee out of Homer's head, then here is your opportunity to find out and get them that dearest wish. But ask first.
And can I also suggest that, in return, if someone asks you what you want, tell them straight. Don't pretend you don't want anything and then be offended if they either get you exactly that or you find yourself grinding chinese spices by new year. Of course, if you genuinely don't want anything, say so. And make sure they know you mean it.
You might just get your best present ever.