With the end of October, we feel many things shift. Depending where you live, the leaves change color and fall, and migrating birds cross the sky. The temperature changes, the days grow short, and business-owners sharpen their pencils as we move into Q4. It is a time of reckoning.
As it turns out, for millennia, people in diverse cultures have found this time of year especially significant, specifically the period between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. For instance, both the Celts and the Maya—high civilizations perched at opposite ends of the pagan world– honored this season as the time of the year when the barrier between the realms, seen and unseen, briefly became permeable.
Both cultures believed that during this “thin” time, both the living and the dead could “cross over”. Echoes of these beliefs, which included the wearing of masks for safe passage when crossing between worlds, pranks, and offerings, persist in the secularized holiday of Halloween. And, some of the resonance and profundity of the season, I feel, explains the contemporary adoption of Dia de los Muertos and its rollicking, yet poetic imagery far beyond its original Mexican roots.
I find this to be a contemplative time of year, and of course I find tea to be an excellent companion for this contemplation. My favorite of the moment is a rare Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling, which is about as profound as a cup of tea can be. Our pick this year from Margaret’s Hope is what’s known as the “first flush of the first flush” among tea-growers and tea-pickers. This tea hits the palate with a burst of fresh nectar, like biting into a perfect apple. The feeling I get from this tea, which is available only in limited quantities, is a feeling not of closure and ending, but of promise: first buds, and dormant energy waiting to burst out. It is, incidentally, fitting to enjoy this tea, with its apple-like essence, as the Jewish New Year 5772 unfolds.
While the frost may not literally be on the pumpkin where you live, the wheel of the seasons has just made a major turn. From all of us at the Art of Tea, May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!