IT is at this time of year that we plot our path to the festive season. Some of us will be dreading it. Too many memories or too much fuss can make this talk of Christmas in November tedious and make us throw a blind one to it.

I get it and intellectually engage with that understanding. For others, November is filled with lists, a building excitement and planning. I admit to being in this category. My intellectual understanding of Christmas sighs is replaced by an awareness that, while I acknowledge the pressure that many feel, I feel an overwhelming connection to my childhood, to the women that for better or worse lay my foundations. And I welcome November. I physically yearn to fill my calendar with the milestones that are reached each weekend.

This year my pear tree gave me an unexpected and unprecedented crop. Turning the bounty from the garden into a spicy chutney instead of buying mangos brought ridiculous joy – it will take a few more weeks for me to know if the little jars with pear, chilli, ginger and onion contain anything worth matching to the cold ham or turkey curry of late December.

I have found I cannot bear the plastic cartons of so-called glacé peel anymore. The dried out cut pieces of orange, green and yellow compare more accurately to cardboard than oranges, limes or lemons. So, this year a week was spent with pots filled with citrus peels becoming stickier and shinier as raw fruit turned to Italian inspired glacé fruits. Filling Kilner jars with the fragranced syrup and little drops of Cointreau had me yearning for my long-passed mother and grandmother to come see and taste. The completion of the fruits then leads to the well-trodden footprints of November, making mincemeat for pies, cakes for Santa and friends and pudding for gluttony’s sake. Measuring the newly glacéd peels with little dark beads of currants, golden gems of sultanas and black eyes of raisins then mixing them in the big red mixing bowl with slivers of toasted walnuts and almonds and drowned in the juice of oranges and lemons and lots of brandy are the moments when time stands still. 

Yes, my Nana would have done the very same ritual wearing her blue day coat, protecting her dress underneath; my mother would have spent the day pulling stalks out of her raisins and swiping our hands away as we tried to grab at handfuls of them, but we all connect across our parallel times, measuring, pouring and leaving to steep with a clean tea towel over night. And that night it can be guaranteed that as everyone, the ghosts and the living, pass by the bowls they take deep greedy, boozy sniffs. The baking, steaming and bottling then take place and little places to store the goodies are found. Visited weekly for the feeding, the goods are laid down for December, and it feels like at least something is under control.

My childhood was far from perfect. Whose was in a messed up post-partition impoverished Dublin where the world could be cruel? But my November memories are close to it and I am happy to keep on my rose-tinted glasses in mid-November, with those first jobs done and as I write more lists in this quiet that sees me through my own bleak mid-winter.