By Laurie Paolicelli
November in Chapel Hill and Orange County is a succession of days that can feel almost too perfect. The nights are chilly enough for a light coat, a fire on the hearth or in a pit, but the days can be warm enough sometimes to wear a t-shirt, especially when you’re out raking leaves. The air has a clarity to it, a sharpness that feels cleansing. The air and the light and the smells combine to create an effect that is virtually cinematic: living in Orange County is the movie-version of Fall. But it’s real.
Note the season with gratitude. Now that the streets have been widened for outdoor seating we’re given another opportunity to be out in it, enjoying a lunch or dinner at one of our four star restaurants. A leaf, fresh from the branch where it’s been hanging out all summer, might fall to your table and land beside your sandwich. In Chapel Hill in November, nature is included with every meal.
Every block here is a little bit different. The shops are mostly locally owned but there’s the occasional chain store –Target or Walgreens, Chipotle, or Jimmy John’s – a reminder that we can and should thrive together. A diverse mix of businesses offer convenience, and the more familial touch of the independent store fronts remind us of who we are and who we have been. There are also incubator labs, and tech offices, signs to performing arts centers, hospitals, campus info, and historical markers. You always know you’re in a university town.
There is truth to the adage that the sky is bluer here. Some days it looks especially brilliant and heavenly, the towering oaks and pines providing an earthly contrast.
Students fill the streets, the quad, the worn brick walkways on the way to their classrooms. But Chapel Hill is also filled with students who never left. Doctors of chemistry, law, southern heritage, folklore, and medicine. A Black woman from Orange County, a Carolina graduate, will go down in history for helping to lead the effort to solve the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a research fellow and scientific lead at the National Institute of Health, served on frontlines collaborating with a team of scientists, studying Moderna’s vaccine.
One of the best things about Chapel Hill is its brilliance: not just the sky and the light and the falling leaves, but the brilliance of its scholars, as well. It’s a community that is built on the philosophy of being a good neighbor and helping each other out. What a wonderful place to raise a family.
Even the fire department’s trucks are Carolina Blue. And like our teachers and administrators, the police and maintenance workers, they work to insure our peace, health, education, and safety. The town has a Goldilocks-feel to it – it’s just right. It’s neighborly. People still know your name. And next week our community will honor veterans at a November 11th event at the Veterans Memorial site near Seymour Center. It is a priority of Orange County leaders to thank Veterans for their sacrifices and valor. We will never forget.
In 2005, longtime leader Bill Friday, touched on what makes this place so special. “We give back to those in need,” he said. “When you give to other people, you are the one that receives the most. The people in this community have big hearts and that inspires the same in the generation to come.”
Make this month a month for gratitude for all of this and more. Thanksgiving, which occurs on the fourth Thursday in November, is drawn from the colonial Pilgrims’ 1621 harvest meal. The holiday continues to be a day for Americans to gather for a day of giving thanks, feasting, enjoying family, and, perhaps, watching football.
America first called for a National Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga. In 1789, George Washington again called for National Day of Thanks on the last Thursday of November to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution.
Which brings us back to Chapel Hill. Our main street is named after another Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin. So, let us remember Franklin in this month and heed his words:
“Thanksgiving is a day “of public Felicity” to express gratitude for the “full Enjoyment of Liberty, civil and religious.”
In gratitude, with felicity. Welcome to November in Chapel Hill and Orange County.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.