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