September Days of the Month

1st – St Giles’ Day

Born in Athens in the 8th century, he was maimed by the French King Wamba, and suffered after that for most of his life. The King had been trying to shoot Giles’ pet hind, but the saint had thrown himself in the way. The arrow penetrated deep into Giles’ knee, crippling him for life. Cripples and beggars adopted Giles as their patron saint, and the slums around European town walls became known as St Giles parish.

St Giles’ Day was a popular date for feasts and fairs. The hind and the arrow are his distinctive emblems. On the font in Norwich Cathedral he is shown with the hind leaping up behind him.

Popular in the middle ages when more than 150 churches in England and Wales were dedicated to him, he is remembered in many place names such as St Giles, Oxford, St Giles Hill, Winchester, St Giles House, Dorset, and St Giles in the Wood, Devon.

It was customary that St Giles Church would be on the outskirts of a town, on one of the great thoroughfares leading into it, in order that cripples might the more conveniently come to and cluster around it. We have a memorial of this association of facts in the interesting old church of St Giles, Applegate, in the eastern part of the City of London.

Today marked the beginning of the gorse and bracken cutting season, the former for oven-fuel, the latter for bedding.

2nd

Today in 1666 the Great Fire of London began in Pudding Lane.

About two thirds of the city was burned down, including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange and about 100 parish churches. The conflagration commenced in the house of a baker, in Pudding Lane, near the Tower and, being favoured by a high wind, continued for three nights and days, until it ended at a spot called Pye Corner in Giltspur Street.

3rd St Gregory the Great’s Day

c 540-604. Elected Pope in 590, he preached, wrote books and music, giving his name to the tones known as ‘Gregorian’. His emblem is a dove.

Lacemakers were allowed to light candles on this day to work by, and could do so until Shrove Tuesday.

Oliver Cromwell died on this day in 1658. His death was preceded by the worst storm of the seventeenth century.

“Tossed in a furious hurricane
Did Oliver give up his reign.”

On the Monday after the first Sunday after 4th September the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is held in Staffordshire. The horns are collected from the church by the six dancers. Each set is attached to a carved wooden deer head to which a handle has been fitted. They spend the day touring the district accompanied by ‘Maid Marion’, a fool, a hobby horse, a bowman, an accordionist and someone playing the triangle. They can often travel over a distance of ten miles, dancing and stopping along the way. It is thought to be very old. The horns date back to the eleventh century. Whatever the origins, the dance has been performed without a break up to the present day and draws great crowds of people to watch.

In the first weekend in September the Eccles Wake in Lancashire was held, at which the famous Eccles cakes were sold.

5th

Fairs held today included

Barnet, London, which took place from the 4th to the 6th;
Eccles Wake, and
Crewkerne, Somerset.

It was said,
The first rain after Crewkerne Fair,
Is the first rain of winter.

6th

A heavy crop of berries, and especially hips and haws and rowanberries, presages a hard winter.

‘Many haws, many snows.’

7th

On this day in 1838 Grace Darling, whose father had the Longstone Lighthouse, on one of Northumberland’s Farne Islands, rowed out in rough seas to save the crew of the ‘Forfarshire’ and rescued nine drowning men.

‘Shout, ye waves! Send forth a song of triumph
. . . Ye screaming sea-mews in the concert join!’
Wordsworth

9th

The Battle of Flodden, near Branxton, in Northumberland, took place today in 1513 between James IV of Scotland and the English forces, led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

King Henry VIII was engaged in the invasion of France at the time. It resulted in the defeat and death of James IV, the slaughter of nearly thirty of his nobles and chiefs, and the loss of about 10,000 men. James had been a popular and very respected King.

The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The pride of our land, lie cold in the clay.

Still from the sire the son shall hear
Of the stern strife and carnage drear,
Of Flodden’s fatal field,
Where shivered was fair Scotland’s spear
And broken was her shield!
Sir Walter Scott – Marmion (1808)

Finally, on this day William I of England, known as William the Conqueror, died in 1087.

11th

Widdecombe Fair is held on the second Tuesday of the month. The fair is perhaps most famous because of the song associated with it –

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along, lee,
For I want for to go to Widdecombe Fair
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

13th

General James Wolfe died on this day in 1759, in a battle between the English and the French, at the plains of Abraham in Quebec.

His last words, as he lay dying, were, ‘How goes the battle?’ When given the news that ‘Quebec is all our own, none can contend it,’ he expired with the words, ‘I die contented.’

He became the subject of several songs and ballads after his death.

14th – Rood Day and Holy Cross Day

Fairs that were held today died out with the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It is an important day for odd goings on in the weather world.

If dry be the buck’s horn on Holyrood morn,
’tis worth a kist of gold;
But if wet it be seen ere Holyrood E’en,
bad harvest is foretold.

If the hart and the hind meet dry and part dry on Rood Day fair,
For sax weeks, of rain there’ll be nae mair.

In 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, this day followed 2nd September and there were riots by people demanding their eleven days back.

15th

There is traditionally an 86 per cent chance of good weather today. It is said that September 15th will be fine six years out of seven.

16th – St Edith of Wilton’s Day

St Edith lived in the 10th century and was the sister of Edward the Martyr. St Edith’s well in Kensing in Kent is said to be good for curing eye complaints. Two more wells are named after her in Stoke Edith, Hereford, and at Church Eaton, Staffordshire. She lived at Wilton Priory, Wiltshire, and turned down the throne after her brother died.

On this day in 1620 The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth bound for North America carrying the Pilgrim Fathers.

18th

Woodbury Hill Fair used to commence today, a massive sheep fair held on the site of an Iron Age fort near Bere Regis, Dorset.

19th – St Theodore of Tarsus 620-690, Archbishop of Canterbury

20th

The weather on the 20th, 21st and 22nd supposedly indicates the weather outlook for the next three months respectively.

On the Saturday nearest the 20th September the Ashby Statute Fair is held. This was once an important hiring fair, but has now long been a pleasure fair.

On this day in 1327 Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

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In Kent and other hop growing counties September was the month when casual workers from London and elsewhere would arrive for the hop-picking season.

‘Haste, haste then and strip, as it bends from the pole
The fruit that gives vigour and strength to the soul.
Our hearts and our spirits to cheer
It warms and enlivens the true British beer.’

The Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the 21st September. It is the moon at its most potent. It symbolises the fertile earth and an abundant harvest.

The man in the moon is said to be Cain or Endymion. But the traditional British explanation is that it was a woodcutter put there because he went stick collecting on a Sunday. The bundle of twigs, a lantern and a dog are features that can still appear to be seen.

The man in the moon came down too soon
And asked his way to Norwich.
He went to the south and burnt his mouth
By eating cold plum porridge.
Traditional rhyme

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21st – St Matthew

He lived in the 1st century. His usual symbol is an angel, moneybag or sword. St Matthew’s Day falls close to the autumnal equinox, which marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It is time to close the beehives for the year (‘St Matthee shut up the bee’) and to prepare for the darker nights ahead (‘St Matthew get candlesticks new’). It is also one of the two days known as Devil’s Nutting Day, when it is unwise to go off to the woods to gather hazelnuts.

St Matthew’s Day bright and clear
Brings good wine in next year.

Devil’s Nutting Day

Holy Cross Day is one of two days, also known as Devil’s Nutting Day, the other being St Matthew’s Day (21st September). It is said that those who went nutting on this day would meet the Devil. The Devil was said to also go nutting on a Sunday.

The Devil, as some people say,
A Nutting goes Holy-Rood day.
Let women then their children keep
At home that day, better asleep
They were, or cattle for to tend
Than nutting go, and meet the fiend;
But if they’ll not be ruled by this,
Blame me not if they do amiss.
Poor Robin’s Almanac (1693)

28th – Michaelmas Eve

Michael was patron saint of the sea. In Lincolnshire Michaelmas Eve bonfires were lit today, and seed was scattered on the land for the birds to forage. This brought good luck to the farm.

29th – Michaelmas

Over 600 churches are dedicated to St Michael. Michael does not fit the usual saint’s profiles. For a start he is not a mortal, but an Angel – the prince of all angels, in fact. It was Michael who evicted Lucifer and threw him from heaven.

Michael is the angel who receives risen souls and weighs them in the balance – the basis of his patronage of grocers.

Many pagan sites were reconsecrated to St Michael after the coming of Christianity.

Michaelmas is one of the four days on which quarterly rents are paid.

And when the tenants come to pay their quarters’ rent
They bring some fowl at midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose,
And somewhat else at New Years’ tide, for fear their lease fly loose.
George Gascoigne (1575)

Michaelmas was the end of harvest, often the end of the farming year itself. And that meant dozens of fairs, trading in people and livestock.

‘Now Michaelmas is coming, boys what pleasure we shall find,
We’ll make the gold and silver fly like chaff before the wind.’

Michaelmas’s name still continues in the names of some colleges’ autumn terms.

A clear sunny show on the Michaelmas weather front means a fine but cold winter ahead. Alternatively the saying is, ‘A dark Michaelmas, a light Christmas.’

At Michaelmas or a little before,
Half the apples thrown away with the core.
At Christmastime or a little bit after,
If it’s as sour as a crab
It’s thank you, master.

So many days old the moon is on
Michaelmas Day so many floods after.

Michaelmas chickens and parsons’ daughters
Never come to good.
Traditional saying

Michaelmas Fairs

After the corn was cut, it was common practice to let geese into the fields of stubble ‘to go a-stubbling’. They would peck up the grains lying scattered on the ground, fattening themselves up.

Goose was the traditional item on the menu during the feasting at Michaelmas.

‘If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day
You will never want money all the year round.’

There were several goose fairs. The great Nottingham Goose Fair began on 2nd October and lasted three weeks, during which many geese, especially those reared in the fens of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, were marketed. To travel such long distances the feet of the geese were covered in tar mixed with sand to protect them from the rough road.

25th

The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place on this day in Yorkshire in 1066 between the Saxon King Harold II of England and King Harald III of Norway, who had designs on the English throne. Harald was supported by Harold’s brother, Tostig. Both died on the battlefield.

The exhausted Harold marched south to meet William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, where he was mortally wounded by an arrow in the eye.

30th – St Jeromes Day.331-419

He was born into a wealthy Italian family and became a doctor. It is said he was travelling in Africa when he came across a lion with a thorn in his foot. At great risk he removed the thorn, freeing the lion from pain. Years later he was captured by the Romans and made to face a freshly captured lion in the Coliseum.

It seems it was the same lion, because instead of ripping him apart it merely lay down next to Jerome. For years after Jerome and the lion toured Italy displaying the same routine to the crowds.

He is the patron saint of students.

30th

On this day in 1399 Henry Bolingbroke rode to his Coronation in driving rain. It was said that he ‘arrived dry, as God had preserved him from the elements’. He became the first of the Lancastrian kings.

On the last Wednesday in September, Bridgwater Fair is held.

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December Days of the Month

1st – Christians celebrate the start of Advent.

On this day in 1797 the seven shilling piece was issued.

‘The swaggering blade who has spent all his money
First searches his pockets, then looks very funny,
But his horrid perplexities suddenly cease
Should there lurk in his fob a seven shilling piece.’

3rd – St Birinus Day

He became the first Bishop of Dorchester. In 650 he was bitten by an adder and died. Before expiring Birinus declared that all people of Dorchester would be forever protected from snake-bite as long as they stayed within earshot of the church bells. Ever since locals have been able to drink vast quantities of mixed cider and lager without fear of falling over!

4th – St Barbara’s Day. St Barbara is invoked by artillerymen and miners to ward off explosions.

This is said to be because St Barbara was saved from execution by her father when he was struck by a bolt of lightning just as he was about to chop off her head. St Barbara became associated with the power to control thunderstorms.

When a thick band of cloud blankets the western sky with smaller cloud bands above and below, this is referred to as Barbara and her barns (bairns, children).

St Osmund’s Day.

St Osmund was Bishop of Salisbury. He died in 1099. St Osmund can be invoked for curing toothache, rupture, madness and paralysis.

5th – St Justinian’s Day. He was a Breton hermit. St Justinian’s Spring used to be on Ramsey Island, near St Davids.

6th – St Nicholas’ Day. He was known for his kindness and generosity to children. He is patron saint of children, single women, pawn brokers, apothecaries, bankers, clerks, captives, perfumers, and sailors.

He was Bishop of 4th century Myra in Turkey. He died on this day in AD 328.

According to one legend he gave away three bags of gold for the dowries of three poor sisters. This is remembered in the pawnbrokers’ sign of three gold balls.

By tradition he visits homes to see if children have been good, and if so leaves small gifts. He is accompanied by Black Peter, a mischievous imp, who carries a bundle of canes for use on naughty children.

After the Reformation the feast of St Nicholas was amalgamated with Christmas Day. Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch name for St Nicholas.

Cathedral towns used to elect a Boy Bishop on this day, who served until Holy Innocents Day (28th December). The Boy Bishop undertook all duties except taking Mass.

Three weeks before Christmas the curfew bells at Scarcliffe Church near Chesterfield in Derbyshire traditionally begin their nightly peal, which lasted until three weeks after the 25th.

11th

The beginning of the Halcyon Days of December, a spell of traditionally fine weather. Halcyon is another name for the Kingfisher. They were supposed to build their nests on the sea at this time of year, calming the waves with their song.

12th St Finnian’s Night

Anyone who goes to bed supperless on this night is likely to be carried over the housetop by the fairies.

13th – St Lucy’s Day

Patron saint of blind people, St Lucy was a devout virgin who gave all her worldly goods to the poor (thereby, in true Christian fashion, joining the ranks of the poor herself).

Lucy light, the shortest day and longest night.

Lucy can be invoked by people suffering from poor eyesight. She is regarded as the bringer of light.

14th – St Tibba’s Day

Tibba and her cousin Eabba, lived in Rutland in the seventh century. They were both devout hermits who became saints after their deaths.

St Tibba is the patron saint of falconers and wild fowlers. In Ryhall in Rutland there is a well named after her.

On this day in 1542 one of Scotland’s best loved monarchs, King James V, died.

16th – the official start of the mince pie season.

December 16th is known as a sapientia, after the anthem traditionally sung today.

17th – Saturnalia

The seventeenth was the start of the seven day Roman festival, Saturnalia, in honour of the god of agriculture, ancestor of modern Christmas.

The 17th is known as Sow Day. Pigs were killed and eaten. No banquet was complete without the boar’s head until well into the 17th century. The orange or apple stuffed into its mouth is a piece of solar imagery.

In Nottinghamshire mince pigs made out of pastry (stuffed with mincemeat) and shaped like pigs with currants for eyes were made for the festive season.

Pigs are said to be able to see the wind.

20th – St Thomas’s Eve

Take an onion, peel it, stick pins in it, and retire to bed with the words –

Good St Thomas, do me right.
Send me my true love tonight.

21st – St Thomas’s Day. The Winter Solstice. When the hours of darkness are at their longest and daylight at their shortest.

On this day people went ‘Thomasing’ or gooding. Poor women tramped around their neighbourhood calling at farms and houses of their better off neighbours, expecting to receive doles of money or food in order to ‘keep a good Christmas’, singing as they went,

‘Please we’ve come a Thomasing, remember St Thomas’s Day.’

‘St Thomas Gray, St Thomas Gray,
The longest night and the shortest day.’

Today marks the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. In pagan times bonfires were lit to frighten away evil spirits, and other activities were held, some of which were absorbed into the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.

St Thomas Divine.
Brewing, baking and killing of fat swine.

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat
Please spare a penny for the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t a penny, a ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.

Christmas Eve

T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
.
Clement Moore, The Night Before Christmas (1822)

Christmas Eve is a traditional time for Nativity Plays and for mummers’ plays. The latter often included the legend of St George and the Dragon. Other characters included The Grand Turk, The Gallant Knight, The Doctor, The Fool or Jester, and Old Father Christmas.

Underlying all mumming plays is the seasonal theme of the conflict between good and evil, darkness and light.

Mumming Songs

‘For one mug of your Christmas ale
Would make us all merry and sing;
And money in our pockets is
A very fine thing . . .’

In comes I, Old Father Christmas,
Am I welcome or am I not?
I hope Old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.

Village lads they may have been, well known to everyone in their audience, but a shadow of the old fear and magic remained as they clattered in disguised, from the frosty lanes, and even in the nineteenth century at was felt unwise to name them.

If a girl walks backwards to a pear tree on Christmas Eve, and walks around the tree three times, she will see an image of her future husband.

For those who keep bees, failure to tell them of any important news such as marriage and death can result in substandard honey, the death of the bees or their desertion of the hive.

In some parts of the country keys were rattled at the hive and then the rhyme

‘Honey bees! Honey bees! Hear what I say!
Your master, X, has passed away.
But his wife now begs you weely stay,
And still gather honey for many a day.
Bonny bees, bonny bees, hear what I say.’

‘Twas said that on Christmas Eve at midnight all the cattle would kneel in their stalls.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
‘Now they are all on their knees,’
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

Thomas Hardy

The most important event of Christmas Eve was the hauling in of the Yule log. Once inside, it was rolled on to the fire and had to be kept burning throughout Christmas until Twelfth Night.

‘Come bring with a noise
My merrie, merrie boyes,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free;
And drink to your heart’s desiring.’

Robert Herrick

The arrival of the Yule log inside the house on Christmas Eve was always an opportunity for a celebration.

They pile the Yule log on the hearth,
Soak toasted crabs in ale;
And while they sip, their homely mirth
Is joyous as if all the earth
For man were void of bale.

Thomas Cooper 1846

The Waits

An essential part of the run-up to Christmas was the evening visits by musicians, called the Waits. A number of medieval towns maintained bodies of Waits, York, Leicester and Norwich among them.

Their duties included providing music at public events, as night watchmen patrolling the streets at night and playing softly and announcing time, to reassure that all was well.

Dumb Cake

It was customary on this night for single girls to make a dumb-cake, which had to be baked in complete silence. The name of the maker pricked her initials on the top of the cake. When baked, it was placed on the hearthstone. At midnight her future husband would walk in and prick his initials next to her. Then one would eat the cake.

Stockings are hung up at the end of children’s beds or by the chimney, and a glass of sherry and a mince pie left for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph.

‘What will go in the Christmas stocking
While the clock on the mantelpiece is ticking?
An orange, a penny,
Some sweets, not too many,
A handful of love,
Another of fun,
And it’s very nearly done.’

Eleanor Farjean

Christmas Day

Christmas comes but once a year,
But when it comes it brings good cheer.

Traditional saying.

Anyone born on Christmas Day is able to see spirits and immune to hanging or drowning.

A time for playing games

After lunch games were played. Most of these are long forgotten, and remembered in name only. Cross and Pyle, Hot Cockles Hot, The Parson Has Lost His Cloak, Feed The Dove, Hawld Hard, Turn Trencher, Round About Our Coal Fire, whilst others such as Hunt The Slipper, Puss In The Corner, and Blind Man’s Buff live on as children’s games.

A traditional Christmas game is Snapdragon. Raisins are put in a flat dish and set alight with brandy. All try to pluck out and eat a raisin without burning themselves.

‘With his blue and lapping tongue,
Many of you will be stung.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!’

Posset was made and drunk – a drink made with warm milk, brandy and spices. This was passed around among the family and friends as they sang carols, told stories and listened to readings around the fire.

God bless the master of this house,
And bless the mistress too,
And call the little children
That round the table go.
And all your kin and kinsfolk
That dwell both far and near.
I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.

Wassailing comes in two forms: the visiting wassail and the wassailing of objects such as the apple trees in January. The word means hale/cheery. The visiting wassail bowl was carried from house to house full of drink, the smell of the cider, cinnamon and roasted apples wafting in the cold dark air. Later the empty bowl was used for the alms. The company sang, as they went door to door, the old wassailing songs.

Wassail, wassail all over the town,
Our toast is white, our ale is brown.
Our bowl is made of a maplin tree;
We be good fellows all – I drink to thee.

We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours’ children who you have seen before.

We know by the moon that we are not too soon,
And we know by the sky that we are not to high.

He’s a fool to marry at Yule, for when the bairns near, the corns to shear.
Old saying

26th – St Stephens Day

Blessed be St Stephen, there is no fast upon his even (traditional saying).

His name is perhaps best known from the Christmas carol –

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.
. . .
Therefore Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

J M Neale, ‘Good King Wenceslas (1853)

Boxing Day

This slightly odd name is probably derived from the time when alms-boxes in churches were opened and the contents distributed to the poor of the parish. At one time children toured the neighbourhood singing:

I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year,
A pocket full of money,
And a cellar full of beer;
A good fat pig
That will last you all year;
I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.

The cock flew in the yew tree,
The hen came clucking by;
If you haven’t got any money,
Please to give me a mince pie –
A mince pie this New Year.

The roads are very dirty,
My shoes are very thin.
I’ve got a little pocket
I can pop a penny in.
May God bless all friends dear.

I wish you a merry Christmas,
And a happy New Year,
A lump of cake
And a barrel of beer.
Christmas comes but once a year.
When it comes it brings good cheer.
Cheer up, cheer up, this New Year.

Hunting the Wren was a widespread custom that took place any time over the Christmas season, but mostly on 26th December. Parties of men and boys paraded the village, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments as they went, and carrying a special box decorated with ribbons and garlands and which contained a wren.

‘The Wren, the Wren, the kind of birds,
St Stephen’s Day, was killed in the furze.
Although he be little, his honour is great
And so, good people, pray give us a treat.

27th – St John’s Day

John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, like his brother, James The Greater, he was a fisherman. ‘St Johns to borrow’ – money used to be borrowed by farmers on this day to enable them to buy new seed for the coming crops.

In the Cotswold village of Marshfield, Gloucestershire, a team of men still perform the old mummers play every Christmas. They call themselves the old-time paper boys, after the costumes that they wear, made out of newspaper cut into strips. The characters are Father Christmas, King William, Little man John, Doctor Phoenix, Saucy Jack, Tenpenny Nit and Father Beelzebub, preceded by a top hatted town crier with hand bell. As with all ‘hero-combat’ mumming plays, one character kills another and the Doctor is summoned to revive him.

‘I can cure the itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout, all pains within and none without. Bring me an old woman seven years dead, seven years laid in her grave, take a pill from me, and this gallant boy will rise again. What’s the fee, doctor? Ten pounds is my fee, but fifteen I’ll take of thee, to set this man free.’

28th – Holy Innocents Day, also known as Childermas, it commemorates King Herod’s massacres of all the male infants in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Christ (according to the New Testament).

29th – St Thomas Becket’s Day, commemorating the date in 1170, when he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. His shrine became one of the most important destinations for medieval pilgrims.

And specially from every shrine ende
Of England to Canterbury they wende,
The holy blissful martyr for to seke
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales.

31st – New Year’s Eve. Hogmany in Scotland.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
. . .
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Robert Burns (1788)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow!
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.


Alfred Lord Tennyson (1850)

Any wind tonight will foretell the wind in the New Year.

If New Year’s Eve night wind blows south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there will be,
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man and brute.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.


Christina Rossetti, ‘Mid-Winter’ (1875)

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December Rhymes and Miscellanea

December was the tenth month of the Roman Calendar. Its name is derived from the Latin decem, ten.

The Anglo-Saxons called it Wintemonath, in Gaelic it is An mios marbh – the dead month. In Welsh – Rhagfyr – the month of preparation, and Giuli – the month of Yule.

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fires and Christmas treat.

Dark December has now come, and brought with him the shortest day and longest night; he turns the mist-like rain into ice with the breath of his nostrils; and with cold that pierces to the very bones, drives the shivering and houseless beggar to seek shelter in the deserted shed . . . Even the houses, with their frosted windows, have now a wintry look; and the iron knocker of the door, covered with hoary rime, seems to cut the fingers like a knife when it is touched.

Sayings

A windy Christmas Day, a good crop of fruit.

If the ice will bear a man before Christmas it will not bear a mouse afterwards.

Clear moon – frost soon.

December cold with snow, good for rye.

Married in days of December cheer,
Love’s star shines brighter from year to year.

A green Christmas means a fat churchyard.

If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the next summer will be a hot one. If it falls on a Thursday, the following year will have much wind – and a dry wind that will be.

If the sun shines on the branches on Christmas Day, the fruit trees will bear well.


If Christmas Day be bright and clear
There’ll be two winters in that year.

Hours of sun on Christmas Day,
So many frosts in the month of May.

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November Days of the Month

1st – Samhain – a pagan festival marking the transition between summer and winter.

This is also All Saints Day and All Hallows Day

All Saints brings the second summer,
All Saints summer lasts three hours, three days or three weeks.

‘Hallow’ is an old word for ‘saint’. All Saints or All Hallows is a celebration of all the redeemed, both the known and the unknown, just in case some saints had slipped through the net of the year unnoticed.

On this day people remembered their departed relatives and prayed for them. Food is left out tonight in case the souls of the departed visit.

All Hallows summer starts today, a traditional spell of unseasonable warmth.

If ducks do slide at Hollantide, at Christmas they will swim;
If ducks do swim at Hollantide, at Christmas they will slide.

Up to the late nineteenth century this was Bonfire day (now 5th November – Bonfire Night).

Mummers’ plays were performed to mark the beginning of winter, as a rite to revive the life-bearing sun.

2nd – All Souls Day

It is a day on which prayers are said and masses celebrated for all those who have ever lived and died.

On this day soul cakes were made. People went from door to door singing a song in return for alms.

Souling songs were sung and it was customary to give soul cakes to all who called. These were small cakes flavoured with spices and brought luck.

Soul! Soul! for a soul cake!
I pray, good missus, a soul cake!
An apple or pear, a plum or cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.

Traditional souling song

 

You gentlemen of England, I’d have you to draw near,
For we have come a-Souling for your strong ale and beer.

 
‘I hope you will prove kind with your apples and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more a-souling until this time next year.
One for Peter, one for Paul,
One for Him as made us all.
Up with your kettles, and down with your pans,
Give us a sou’cake and we will be gone.’

Old souling song

 
3rd – St Winefrides Day

St Winefride’s Well in Holywell is the finest example of a medieval well. James II and his Queen visited in 1686 desperate for an heir, and it soon worked its magic.

Hundreds of people were said to have been cured of diseases after a dip in the special bathing pool. The water was also used for making wishes.

4th – St Cleer’s Day

He was a 6th century hermit. St Cleer, near Liskeard in Cornwall, is named after him, and his Holy Well still stands in the village.

A stick and a stake
For King George’s sake
Will you please to give us a faggot.
If you won’t give one, we’ll steal two,
The better for we and the worse for you.
Bonfire wood collecting Warwickshire rhyme

 
5th – Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night

On this day in 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested following the attempt to blow up Parliament.

November 5th was officially declared a day of national celebration. It became combined with the fire festivals already prevalent at this time of year and survives to the present day as Bonfire Night.

There are records of effigies being burnt on bonfires as early as the 1670s, although until the nineteenth century these were more likely to be of the Pope.

In the sixteenth century Mary I burnt 17 Protestant martyrs at Lewes in Sussex, an inflammatory act which continues to ignite the town in annual protest. Each November 5th they ‘burn the Pope’ and have a massive bonfire. People chant

‘A rope, a rope to hang to Pope, a piece of cheese to toast him,
A barrel of beer to drink his health, and a right good fire to roast him.’

There is a huge fancy dress torchlight parade through the streets.

‘We come a cob-a coalin; cob-a coalin,
We come a cob-a coalin for Bonfire Night.’

 
Citizens of York are not supposed to burn Guy today. He was a York-born soldier roped into the 1605 plot as a mercenary. He was ironically born a Protestant.

In addition to the well-known ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot’, apposite rhymes today include:

Rumour, rumour, pump a derry,
Prick his heart and burn his body,
And send his soul to Purgatory.

and

Gunpowder Plot shall ne’er be forgot
As long as Bella Brown makes good Tom Trot.

Tom Trot was parkin, an oaty ginger and treacle cake.

The penny for the guy custom and the making of the guy for the garden bonfire are two widespread homely traditions that have largely disappeared and numerous others have come and gone.

Some families had special food for the evening. Jacket potatoes cooked on the edge of the bonfire, toffee apples, Bonfire toffee and gingerbread and parkin to munch on as the rockets were set off.

On the first Friday in November the Bridgewater carnival takes place and holds what is claimed to be the largest illuminated carnival in the world. Crowds of 150,000 pack the town. Around 150 floats take part, decorated with thousands of light bulbs. A huge firework display ends the evening. Blazing tar barrels, firecrackers and street bonfires used to be held.

“Men, boys and urchins paraded the streets decked out in their colourful costumes. Amongst the usual mix of characters was one young man who had the impudence to mimic ‘to an alarming extent’ the latest ladies fashion – crinoline. But the young ladies of the day were able to get their own back by throwing lighted firecrackers at this display from the safety of their upstairs windows.”
Local newspaper report of 1860.

6th – St Leonard’s Day

Died c.560. Patron saint of blacksmiths, coopers, greengrocers, prisoners of war, slaves and women in labour.

St Leonard is still remembered in the place names in Bucks, Dorset, St Leonard’s Forest, and in St Leonard’s, near Hastings.

7th – St Willibrord’s Day

10th – Martinmas Eve

Was seen as a time of feasting and merrymaking based on the habit of slaughtering animals at this time for salting down to last through the winter. It was a time of indoor gathering, where tales were told and games played, in defiance of the darkening nights and deteriorating weather of the autumn season:

Now that the year grows wearisome with age
And days grow short and nights excessively long
No outdoor sports the village hinds engage
Still is the meadow romp and harvest song.
John Clare – Martinmas Eve 1830

 
Martinmas Eve is Halloween Old Style and thus a second chance to look into the future.

Take three dishes, fill one with clean water, one with dirty water and leave one empty. A person is then blindfolded and led in to feel for a dish with their left hand; if they put their hand into the clean water, their future wife (or husband) will be a maid or bachelor; if into the dirty water they will wed a widow or widower, but if into the empty dish they will never marry.

11th – Martinmas

St Martin of Tours is the patron saint of soldiers. He was a 4th century saint. He served in the army before his baptism in AD 354, which allegedly followed a miraculous vision of Christ he experienced after sharing his military cloak with a freezing beggar. He became Bishop of Tours. After he died the cloak became a sacred relic, carried into battle as a banner by various French monarchs, and stored at other times in a sanctuary known as the chopelle or capella (from the old French chape, or Latin capella, cloak) from which the English word ‘chapel’ is derived.

If Martinmas ice will bear a duck,
Then look for a winter of slush and muck.

 
Weather wise, if it is very cold today, the winter will be gentle. Martinmas is usually quite mild, the start of a short spell known as St Martin’s summer, or the November Halcyon Days.

It is the day of Martinmas,
Cups of ale should freely pass,
What through winter has begun
To push down the summer sun.
To our fire we can be take
And enjoy the crackling brake,
Never heeding winter’s face
On the day of Martinmas.

Martinmas beef doth bear good tack
When country folk do daintier lack.

11th – Remembrance Day

In 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the hostilities of World War I officially came to an end.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon, ‘For the Fallen’ (1914)

 
Armistice Day is also called Poppy Day, from the custom of wearing paper replicas of this flower. They grew in the battlefields of Flanders, their bright red symbolic of the blood that had been shed there.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The Larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae, ‘In Flanders Fields’ (1915)

 
13th – St Brice’s Day

Brice was Bishop of Tours. He died in AD 444. He was soon accredited with saintly virtues and his cult was popular in England. The only English church dedicated to him is at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.

The most well-known custom that took place on St Brice’s Day was the annual bull-running at Stamford. Every year on this day at 11 in the morning the church bells were rung to warn people off the streets, and a bull was released. After being chased through the town by people with their dogs yelling and shouting, it was pushed into the river. After it had managed to swim ashore in nearby meadows, the poor beast was finally killed and later eaten.

The last bull-running took place in 1839.

14th – St Dyfrig’s Day

He lived in the 6th century, and was said to have been the bishop who crowned King Arthur.

On this day in 1635 died Old Parr of Shropshire, who claimed to have been born in 1483 and thus to be 152 years old. He married for the first time at 80, and for the second at 120; but the excitement of a visit to Charles I court proved fatal to him. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

16th – St Margaret of Scotland’s Day

Margaret, who died in 1093, was one of the last of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, wife of King Malcolm III.

A healing well at Liberton, in Edinburgh, is named after her.

17th – Queen Elizabeth I’s Holiday

The anniversary of her accession to the throne in 1558, formerly much celebrated with bonfires and bell ringing.

‘Next came the Queen, in the sixty-sixth year of her age, as we were told, but very majestic. Her face was oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, but black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked, her lips narrow and her teeth black. She wore false hair and that was red.’
Paul Hentzner – Travels in England, 1598.

17th – St Hilda’s Day (614-680)

She founded the Abbey in Whitby, North Yorkshire. It became famous as a school. Five pupils of hers became bishops. Fifteen churches are dedicated to her.

17th – St Hugh of Avalon, also known as Hugh of Lincoln (Great Hugh) (1135-1200)

Hugh was a wise and fearless Bishop of Lincoln whose pet swan met him each time he returned to his palace. He has one church dedicated to him.

18th

The traditional time for making Christmas puddings is Stir Up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent Sunday, which is the final one in November. Each member of the family should stir the pudding and make a wish. The name Stir Up Sunday comes from the collect traditionally read on this day in church.

A children’s rhyme chanted when alms collecting echoes this:
Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot.
And when we get home we’ll eat the lot.

According to the Christian tradition, puddings should be made of 13 ingredients, one for each Apostle and one for Jesus. They should be stirred with a wooden spoon – to recall the manger – and in a sunwise direction, retracing the route of the magi. It is still customary in some households to make 13 puddings, the last one is known as the Judas Pudding and is either given to a beggar or thrown out.

19th – St Ermenburga’s Day

A Kentish princess, who founded a nunnery at Minster on the Isle of Thanet.

20th – St Edmund’s Day (841-870), Patron Saint of Sailors.

He was King of East Anglia, and murdered by the Vikings in 869 when he refused to champion the pagan cause by being tied to a tree and fired at with arrows and then beheaded. His head was hidden under a thorn bush, but when his followers sought it, the head itself was heard crying, ‘Here, here,’ and was discovered in the care of a monstrous white wolf.

He was buried at the Suffolk town which then became Bury St Edmunds. St Edmund remains popular across East Anglia and schoolchildren on this day are given a specially baked St Edmunds bun.

“Set garlic and beans at Edmund the King,
The moon in the wane thereof hangeth a thing.”

 
21st – Old Michaelmas Eve

22nd – St Cecilia’s Day

She was a 3rd century Roman Christian, and is the patron saint of musicians. She was said to have invented the organ. Cecilia was condemned for her Christianity and put to death. St Cecilia’s Church in Rome is built on the site of the bath in which she died.

So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour
The trumpet shall be heard on high
The dead shall live, the living die.
And musick shall untune the sky.

Today used to be a hatters’ holiday, being the eve of their patron saint, Clement. He was a great inventor – after a long and tiring walk, he found some wool and put this between his foot and the sandal; the combination of sweat and compaction resulted in the first felt.

22nd – Pack-Rag Day, called because servants now carried their possessions to new work places after finding new employment at the many hiring fairs held on this day – Martinmas Old Style.

Servant men, stand up for your wages
When to the hirings you do go,
For you must work all sorts of weather,
Both cold and wet and snow.
Old Shropshire Ballard

 
23rd – St Clement’s Day

St Clement was a 4th century Christian martyr, drowned by being tied to an anchor. He is patron saint of blacksmiths and lighthouse men and hatters.

St Clement brings the winter.

In former times St Clements Day was celebrated with a custom known as clementing, which involved begging for money, fruit or cakes in exchange for a song. In some parts of the UK blacksmiths celebrated their patron saint’s feast day with parades through the streets with an effigy of St Clement called Old Clem and ended with a special meal called a Clem Supper.

Later children took up cleming and sang songs in return for apples or spiced Clements cakes.

At Walsall the mayor used to throw apples and pennies at the children in the name of Clement, while at Rippon, choristers handed out apples stuck through with a sprig of box.

25th – St Catherine’s Day

Patron saint of philosophers, librarians, unmarried women, wheelwrights, millers and lace makers. 80 churches are dedicated to her. She is said to have been tortured on a wheel in AD 310, hence the Catherine wheel firework and the Catherine or Rose window.

Her well is at Abbotsbury, near Weymouth. Put one knee and your hands in three holes inside the chapel, and wish aloud for a tall, dark stranger to engulf you.

The festival of St Catherine was often held together with St Clement.

‘Cattern and Clemen be here, be here,
Some of your apples and some of your beer.’

People went catterning, and cattern cakes and pies were made and eaten. The cakes were light and airy, made from sweet dough, flavoured with caraway. The pies were shaped like a Catherine wheel, filled with mince, honey and breadcrumbs.

Rise, maidens, rise,
Bake your cattern pies.
Bake enough and bake no waste,
And let the bellmen have a taste.

 
People played games. A favourite one was leaping over a lit candle. If it went out as you leaped, farewell good luck.

Kit be nimble, Kit be quick.
Kit jumps over the candlestick.

 
St Catherine was also involved in matters of matrimony. At St Catherine’s chapel in Abbotsbury, Dorset, women used to go and say the following prayer:

A husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine;
A rich one, St Catherine;
A nice one, St Catherine;
And soon, St Catherine!

The Cattern Bowl

A special drink was made out of cider, cinnamon and sugar, pulped apples were then added and it was given out to friends and family.

30th – St Andrew’s Day. Patron Saint of Scotland.

When St Andrew was martyred in the 1st century AD, he opted for a X shaped (saltire) cross, as he felt unworthy of being killed in the same way as Jesus.

About 600 churches are dedicated to him.

St Andrew the King, three weeks and three days before Christmas come in.

‘Traditional saying’

 
On St Andrew’s Day the night is twice as long as day.

All over the world Scots raise the following toast today –

‘To the memory of St Andrew and Scotland yet.’

This was mischief night in Northamptonshire. Squirrel hunting was an annual event.

Elderberry wine and Tandra cake or St Andrew’s cake are eaten in England in areas of lace making such as Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire. The holiday was known as ‘Tander’.

30th – Advent

Advent means ‘coming’, of the messiah. Christians celebrate the coming of Christ during Advent – the four weeks before Christmas. Advent Sunday is the nearest Sunday to 30th November.

Some people have an Advent wreath with four candles, one to light on each Sunday.

In the north of England before the Reformation poor women made two dolls called the Advent Images (representing the Virgin and Christchild) and went around the neighbourhood singing the ancient carol, ‘The first joy that Mary had, it was the joy of one’ and people contributed a coin.

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November Rhymes and Miscellanea

November was the ninth month of the Roman calendar. Its name is derived from the Latin novem, nine. The Anglo Saxons called it Blotmonath (‘Bloodmonth’) or Windmonath (‘Wind Month’).

In Welsh it is Tachwedd – the month of slaughtering, or Y Mis Du – the black month. In Gaelic it is Ant-Samhuinn – the month of the Samhain festival.

November is the pioneer of Winter, who comes, with his sharp winds and keen frosts, to cut down every bladed and leafy bit of green that is standing up, so as to make more room for the coming snowflakes to fall on the level waste, and form a great bed for Winter to sleep on . . . But amid all these images of desolation, which strike the eye more vividly through missing the richly-coloured foliage that threw such beauty over the two preceding months, November has still its berries which the early frosts have ripened to perfection.

November – the time when fishermen beached their boats and stopped fishing for winter.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November!
Thomas Hood ‘No’ (1844)

On the first November if the weather hold clear
An end of what sowing you do for this year

November’s child is born to bless,
He’s like a song of thankfulness.

Married in veils of November mist,
Fortune your wedding ring has kissed.

If you wed in bleak November
Only joy will come, remember.

Ice in November to bear a duck,
Nothing afterwards but slush and muck.

November take flail,
Let ships no more sail.

Ice in November brings mud in December.

If the November goosebone be thick, so will the winter’s weather be.
If the November goosebone be thin, so will the winter’s weather be.

November’s sky in chill and drear,
November’s leaf is red and sear.

A child born at Hallowtide is sure to have the second sight and all November’s children will be fortunate and beloved.

A cold November, a warm Christmas.

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