Hallowe’en, or All Hallows’ Eve

Celebrated each year on October 31st, Hallowe’en means the Eve of Hallotide (1st and 2nd November) which was designated as a time to remember the dead.

The modern Hallowe’en developed from the two closely linked Christian festivals of All Saints (1st November) and All Souls (2nd November).

The last night of October, Old Year’s Night in the Celtic calendar, a night of witches and fires, was transmuted by the Church into the Vigil of All Saints or Hallowe’en. It was celebrated much more in the North of England, where people made lanterns out of turnips, disguised themselves in costumes, and ducked for apples and jumped for treacle scones. It was a time for ghost stories and games.

Hence, journeys had to be finished before sunset, and lighted candles were left burning all night in the stable to keep evil from farm stock, because Hallowe’en was the night upon which animals were allowed back into the homestead for winter.

Away from the farm, villagers were advised never to leave a door ajar or an unwelcome supernatural visitor might enter and remain with the household for life. And church bells were rung and bonfires lit to guide returning souls to Earth.

On Hallowe’en the old ghosts come
About us – and they speak to some.

It was a time for divination. Nut shells were burned and prophecies made from their ashes. Young ladies threw apple peel in the air to make the initial of their future betrothed when it landed.

Sprigs of Rosemary or Yew under the pillow would reveal their future husband in their dreams. Also, if you ate an apple at midnight whilst seated in front of a mirror you would see your future husband peeping over your shoulder.

Until at least 1890, Cornish greengrocers laid in stocks of fine Allan apples, the traditional gift for children at All Hallows.

“Hey ho for Hallowe’en
When all the witches are to be seen.
Some in black and some in green,
Hey ho for Hallowe’en.”

In some rural areas it was usual at Hallowe’en to serve a Mash of Nine Sorts to unmarried guests.

Assorted charms were added. Each guest was then asked to take a spoonful in turn to bring out a charm.

A coin for wealth,
A ring for marriage,
A button for a bachelor,
A thimble for a spinster,
A wishbone for your heart’s desire.
Halowe’en charms

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Cornish prayer


The Lord of Misrule

All-Hallows Eve was traditionally the day on which the Lord of Misrule was appointed for the Christmas to come. He would reign through till Candlemas, 2 February, known by other names, such as ‘The Master of Merry Disport’, ‘The Abbot of Unreason’, ‘Candlemas King’. It was his appointed task to ensure continuous merriment from New Year’s Eve through to Twelfth Night.

He was the personification of the spirit of disorder, fun and merrymaking which made the Christmas holidays something to look forward to in the Middle Ages, a welcome break during the hard winter months.


October Rhymes and Miscellanea

The woods never look more beautiful than from the close of last month to the middle of October, for by that time it seems as if nature had exhausted all her choicest colours on the foliage. We see the rich, burnished bronze of the oak; red of many hues, up to the gaudiest scarlet; every shade of yellow, from the wan gold of the primrose to the deep orange of the tiger-lily . . . and all so blended and softened together in parts, that like the colours on a dove’s neck, we cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.
Chambers Book of Days (1864)


October, the tenth month of the year, was the eighth month of the Roman calendar. Its name is derived from the Latin octo, eight. The Anglo Saxons called it Wynmonath (‘wind month’) and Winterfyllith, the month of the winter moon. The Irish-Gaelic name Deireadh Fomhair, means ‘end of autumn’. In Welsh it is Hydref – the month of autumn, and in Gaelic-An Domhais – the month of deer rutting.


If in October you do marry
Love will come but riches tarry.

Drunk or sober,
Sow wheat in October

A good October and a good blast
To blow the hog, acorn and mast.

Married when leaves in October thin,
Toil and hardship for you begin/

For every fog in October, a snow in the winter, heavy or light according as the fog is heavy or light.

In October dung your field
And your land its wealth shall yield.

A warm October presages a cold February.

As the weather is in October, so it will be next March.

Where the wind is at Hollantide (Hallowe’en) the season of All Saints, it will be most of the winter.

If the October moon comes without frost, expect no frost till the full moon of November.

October hath always
One and twenty fine days.

An October bride is fair of face and affectionate, but she is also jealous.

If the deer’s coat is grey in October, there will be a severe winter.

If the October moon appears with the points of her crescent up the month will be dry; if down, wet.

If during the fall of leaves in October many leaves remain hanging and wither on the bough, a frosty winter with much snow will follow.

Much rain in October, much wind in December.

A warm October, a cold February.