Why fall beats Autumn (and for families, is maybe the best season of them all)
Two years ago I was fresh off the plane from London and getting stuck in to my first American 'fall.' As a childless teacher back home, all Autumn had meant to me for a few years was the fresh start and massive workload of a new school year, swapping beer gardens for cosy drinks by the pub fireplace, and the return of Saturday nights on the sofa watching Strictly and X Factor. So witnessing for the first time how Americans celebrate the new season with such zeal was an eye-opener for me.
Fast-forward two years, and I'm a total convert. Many of the things I gawped at when I first arrived have become traditions that I look forward to, and seeing them this year through the eyes of a curious toddler has been the most enjoyable experience yet. So here are my reasons why Fall beats Autumn (no offence, Blighty), and why for families it might just be the best season of all...
1. Seasonal décor
When I first arrived in Philly I just couldn't get my head around the pumpkin explosion that greeted me in every bar, restaurant, and on every sidewalk in town. Mini-gourds were used as table decorations, whopping great pumpkins adorned doorsteps, and many were complemented by seasonal door wreaths and the odd hay stack for good measure. Now, I bloody love them. A simple walk around town is made much more interesting when you're on the look-out for the biggest / best variety / most creative use of a pumpkin, and it doesn't half make the neighbourhood look inviting. Plus, it turns out my daughter is obsessed with the mini ones we've got as table decorations, and will stay in her high chair at least long enough for me to stack the dishwasher as long as she has all three lined up on her high chair tray. We're all winners.
2. Farm fun
The pumpkin obsession extends to the suburbs, where local farms use their Pick Your Own patches to tout for 'cutest kid photo opp' plaudits. Couple pumpkin patches with hay rides, apple picking, and seasonal displays, and you've got yourself a great family day out.
3. Fall festivals
It seems that every weekend there's a different seasonal celebration going on in some neighbourhood or city park. With themed food offerings, Oktoberfest beer specials, and games and crafts for kids, it's a perfect excuse to get out and meet the neighbours.
4. Football season
September also sees the start of football season in the US - probably the national sport around which there is most hype. It's traditional in America for 'game day' (NFL games are normally played on a Sunday) to be spent at home with family and friends, enjoying a host of junk food treats along with the company. In Philly, as in most cities (except New York), there's just one football team for the city to unite around, and on a Sunday you can't take more than two steps outside our apartment block before you're greeted by a sea of green Eagles shirts. Coming from a city (and, in my case, a household) where football (soccer) loyalties are divided and you have more sporting enemies than allies, I love the fact that the city unites in this way. Go Birds!
5. Fall TV
Cooler weather and longer nights means a whole host of new TV programmes on offer. US channels save a lot of their big hits for the fall TV schedule and start teeing them up with adverts as early as August. We're currently enjoying Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland as an unlikely new President after the entire Cabinet, Senate and Congress is wiped out in an attack on the Capitol Building during the State of the Union. Gripping (in a mindless way that means you don't have to concentrate too much – does that make sense?!) stuff.
6. Pumpkin delicacies
In addition to doing their turn on the home decor front, pumpkins are also all the culinary rage at this time of year. Whether it's a pie, an ale, or an omnipresent spiced latte that takes your fancy, you'll find something to tempt you on any menu in town.
Halloween is a BIG deal here. People start costume-planning months in advance (often adults as well as kids – bonus points for coordinating family outfits), trick or treating is pretty much mandatory, and neighbours join together to pimp their streets in to ghoulish gauntlets for the kids to run on the big day. There is genuinely a block in our neighbourhood where, before buying or renting a property, you are obliged to sign up with the neighbourhood association to say you will partake in their seasonal spooky celebrations. And the results are amazing. Last year on our Halloween walk we saw trees bedecked in cobwebs unleashing giant mechanised spiders from a height on unsuspecting victims. Skeletons crawled up walls whilst ghosts wafted from windows. At one particularly impressive mansion (no joke – this place is HUGE), a three-headed dog stood guard at the door whilst ghouls were suspended from the balcony overhead and insects crept up the sides of the building, all set to a soundtrack of shrill screams and sinister cackles. Somehow I can’t quite imagine us Brits going all out like that.
8. Holiday season is just beginning
The great thing about all of these seasonal celebrations is that they're just the start of the American holiday calendar. Before skeletons have even been deconstructed or cobwebs dismantled, the preparations for Thanksgiving (end of November) will be underway; this rolls swiftly in to Christmas, and of course Americans attack these subsequent holidays with a similar fervour. This year I'm particularly looking forward to getting crafty ahead of Thanksgiving, and the holiday tree-lighting ceremony in our local park.
With all this excitement there's no time to rue the end of summer - the only thing for it is to kick back with a PSL and toast the season. Happy fall, y'all!