During the autumn season when imagery of the harvest is all around, it can be easy to forget that the cornucopia of produce yielded is the product of year round effort. Thoughwe, most of whom are removed from the production of our own sustenance, may not be consciously aware of the agricultural calendar,it is something that our ancestors were very much aware of. Until very recently in the grand timeline of human history, the vast majority of human beings participated in agriculture, in one way or another, as well as the age old customs and rituals that went along with it.
November hearkens the coming of that great American harvest feast wherein we express our gratitude for Nature’s bounty, and for the indigenous people whose generous support ensured the survival of the progenitors of our nation. However, when we dig a little deeper we discover that the tradition of Thanksgiving extends far beyond the borders of the United States.
Canada celebrates her own Thanksgiving in October, and Germany’s version, called Erntedankfest, is celebrated either at the end of September or in early October. The November harvest festival that the British-American pilgrims would have been familiar with, prior to their emigration, is the Feast of Saint Martin,or Martinmas.
Halloween is a fun and festive time of year with roots going back to Old World tradition. While some traditions have faded away, others survived and are still practiced today. In the old days, both October 31s and November 1st were considered special days. Often the eve before a holiday was the time for raucous revelry while the next morning was the time for solemn church going. Thus, All Hallows Eve (or evening) became Hallowe’en, and then simply Halloween. Of course we know that before it was All Hallows, the celebration was called Samhain (pronounced sow-en), a Celtic pagan high day. For this edition of The Archivist’s Corner, your archivist has uncovered some antiquated accounts of Celtic Halloween customs for your reading pleasure.