Autmn-Holidys-art - 5/31/07
"Autumn Moons and Holidays" by THL Johnnae llyn Lewis.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Autumn Moons and Holidays
by THL Johnnae llyn Lewis
Calendar customs are the date-based traditions and customs associated with seasons, holidays, and days of the year. For those that have grown up with official holidays being created or moved in order to provide Mondays off, it may seem odd to read of days honoring saints martyred in far off places in the third century and realize that these days were kept "holy", hence holidays, in places thousands of miles and centuries removed in time. Calendar customs were a very real part of the Medieval and Renaissance Ages, and as such deserve study in these 'Current Middle Ages" as practiced within the Society.
Autumn arrived just past 6 PM (Eastern time) on September 22nd this year. Today we associate the season with the start of school and the academic year. Football reappears on Friday nights, and Saturdays are college game days. Days eventually grow colder, leaves change color and fall, and it grows dark ever earlier. In medieval times, autumn was the season of harvest and slaughter. There was both a Harvest Moon and a Hunter's Moon in the fall. In 2005, September 17th was the Full Harvest Moon. (September in Old English was h¾rfestm—nað, meaning harvest month.) The full Hunter's Moon is October 17th. The Harvest Moon provided light for the harvest to continue late into the evening. The Hunter's Moon provided light for hunting. The Tudor agrarian writer Thomas Tusser urged caution about lending farm tools in September. It was a month for keeping corn (grain) from the crow, fencing, mending, and trenching. He also offered advice on gathering fruits without bruising so as to prevent rotting later, the care of hives and bees, and the inventorying of farm animals and tools.
Among the first important holidays of Autumn is that of Michaelmas. The feast of St. Michael the Archangel or Michaelmas on September 29th was a major holiday in a number of countries. (It's still celebrated throughout Europe as a harvest or wine festival in many places.) In England this was a Quarter Day or one of the four dates in which rents might be due. It was also a traditional date for fairs, especially hiring fairs where new servants and agrarian workers might be hired. Livestock might be sold at this time, as farmers decreased the number of animals that would need feeding over the winter. Geese fattened on stubble might also be sold at the Michaelmas fairs. Foodwise, this was also a day for eating a goose, and it was said those that ate goose on Michaelmas Day would never lack for money during the rest of the year.The association that Elizabeth I was eating a goose on Michaelmas Day in 1588 when word was received that the Spanish Armada had been defeated is legendary, of course as the Armada was defeated in August and not late September. The story is repeated in numerous places, however, in association with the holiday.
For the Anglo-Saxons, the month of October was Wynmonath or "wine month". In October, Thomas Tusser recommended that the 'barley-land be looked over and attended to, that white wheat be sown among the pease-etch, that acorns be gathered, and in general that all matters of tillage be considered.
Among the important and remembered feast days in October comes that of October 25th.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
William Shakespeare. Henry V
Saints Crispin and Crispinian were martyred on October 25th in 285 or 286. On this day in 1415, Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt, hence Shakespeare's famous speech.
The 31st of October is of course now celebrated as Halloween. Folklorist Steve Roud characterizes it as "the most misrepresented and misunderstood festival in the traditional calendar." October 31st was once the eve of Samhain in Celtic Ireland and Scotland. Some historians and folklorists argue that it was never connected with the dead in pre-Christian times. Others argue that it was always a night of divination, magic, fairies and ghosts when the veil between the dead and living was lifted. Under the Catholic Church the night became All Hallows' Eve or Allhallows' Eve or Hallowtide, leading up to November's Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. It's hard now to separate the very old customs from the 19th century Victorian, the 20th century American or the Neo-Pagan elements that now distinguish the holiday. Certainly Halloween today now mixes Hollywood with traditions like trick or treating, elaborate costumes, games, bonfires, ghost stories, etc. The sources below offer more information for those wanting to delve more deeply into the holiday and its traditions.
Lest we think that ghosts and hauntings weren't of concern in past times, one may look to a work by Ludwig Lavater (1527-1586): Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght and of strange noyses, crackes, and sundry forewarnynges, whiche commonly happen before the death of menne, great slaughtersÉ . It was translated into English by R.H. and published in 1572.
The Venerable Bede noted that November was known as Blod-monath or bood month, reflecting that it was the time of slaughter. "At Hallontide, slaughter time entereth in and then the husbandmans feasting begin:' wrote Thomas Tusser. Other agrarian activities for November included droving cattle for sale, threshing barley and wheat, setting garlic and peas, chimney cleaning, and privie cleaning. Then around Martinmas came the slaughter of hogs and cattle, especially the hanging of a beef to be eaten at Easter in the coming year.
The first of November's is the Feast of All Saints, (All Hallows or Hallowtide). It was instituted to honor all the saints, known and unknown. So many early martyrs died during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, that separate feast days could not be dedicated to each. As early as the 5th century the holiday was celebrated on the Friday after Easter. In the 7th century Pope Gregory III dedicated the Pantheon in Rome and set the date as that of November 1st ; then in the 9th century Gregory IV extended the celebration to the entire church. All Saints is followed by All Souls' Day on November 2nd. All Souls' commemorates all the faithful departed. It is at this time that the faithful on earth may help the recently departed dead in purgatory through their prayers and by attending mass. It dates to 998. In Latin America and most especially Mexico these days today make up Los Dias de Los Muertos or the Days of the Dead which is celebrated with ceremony, reverence, and molded sugar skulls.
The other major feast of November is that of Martinmas on November the 11th. St Martin of Tours (c316-397) was a hugely popular medieval saint. At Amiens, he clothed a poor beggar with half of his own cloak. A dream that night revealed that he had clothed Christ. He went on to become Bishop of the Church of Tours. Martinmas was an important date in the traditional calendar. It marked a date when rents might be due, and in Scotland, it was a quarter day. It could also again be a time of hiring faires when servants sought new positions. Given that this was the season of slaughtering cattle and pigs, Martinmas was often a day given to festive eating and drinking. It was considered unlucky in fact in Ireland and Scotland not to slaughter some beast or fowl on Martinmas with the flesh then being eaten by all in the household. Should the weather be mild and sunny, it was known as St. Martin's summer (rather like our Indian Summer), but all the time it was with the knowledge that "At Saint Martin's Day, winter is on his way".
This concludes our short examination of the holidays of late September, October, and November.
Blackburn, B. & L. Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford: OUP, 1999.
Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. 1976. London: Paladin, 1984.
Rogers, N. Halloween. From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford: OUP, 2002.
Roud, S. The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland. London: Penguin, 2003.
Simpson, J. & S. Roud. A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford: OUP, 2000.
Skal, D. J. Death Makes a Holiday. A Cultural History of Halloween. NY: Bloomsbury, 2002.
Tusser, Thomas. Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. 1580. Oxford: OUP, 1984.
OED Online. 2nd Ed. 1996.
Catholic Online. http://www.catholic.org
Patron Saints; Saints Days. http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/indexsnt.htm
The New Catholic Encyclopedia Online. 1908, 2003 http://www.newadvent.org/
For more information on these months, please see Johnnae's columns in The Pale.
Contributed by THL Johnnae llyn Lewis, CE.
A version of this article appeared in the Barony of Cynnabar's newsletter The Citadel in October/November 2005.
Copyright 2007 by Johnna H. Holloway. <Johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.