A note to the reader: Never has it been so evident that history can sometimes be murky and difficult to wade through than during my quest to discover the roots of Christmas caroling! Different sources give different information, conflicting dates, and varying histories.
Ordinarily I would not open with a disclaimer. But, under the circumstances, if the reader were to look up this information on their own, they might find answers different than what I’ve written here. So, I will endeavor to weed through it all and give my own assessment of the material. And, I will try to be clear about where my information came from by citing all sources. - Carolyn
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.
Trees and wells have been places of wonder, wishes, offerings, and miracles in Britain since time immemorial. In many cases we can only speculate how long folk customs have been occurring. Northern and Central Europeans did not leave written records, apart from pictograms, sparse runic inscriptions or ogham carvings. Add to that, previous generations used materials that erode or decay. The point is that just because there is no record in no way implies something did not occur. But on the same token, it cannot very well be argued that it did occur unless there is hard evidence. This is the conundrum of the historian, but also of the folklorist who studies both lore and folk practices.
Scottish traditional dress is admired the world round. Indeed, Tartan Day celebrates Scottish heritage each year in April in the U.S. and Canada, while Australia and New Zealand celebrate it in July. Individual tartans are identified with different Scottish clans, and we when we hear the word “tartan,” the first image that comes to mind is the famed Scottish kilt. Perhaps it is because the kilt is so unique among modern men’s clothing that it has been the object of such fascination while traditional Scottish women’s clothing is often marginalized as a footnote. Well, this edition of the Archivist’s Corner is turning the tables! Kilt, step aside! Your Archivist has dug through the annals of time to uncover paintings, drawing, and written observations of traditional Scottish women’s apparel from roughly the 18th through the early 20th centuries.
For this edition, being the month of February, I’d like to share some old Scottish love ballads with you. However, these are not the epitome of what we would consider romantic today! But, they depict true emotion, and maybe a strong dose of heartache, while also giving a glimpse of a world gone by.
The Fairy Flag is an heirloom passed down in the McLeods of Dunvegan family for generations. It is held in the Clan’s ancestral home, Dunvegan Castle. This castle has been in the possession of Clan McLeod for over 800 years, making it Scotland’s oldest castle continuously inhabited by the same family.
In this installment we travel to ye olde Yorkshire. Here is a selection of poems and lyrics in the Yorkshire dialect, accompanied by antique illustrations of Yorkshire. The poems come from “Yorkshire Dialect Poems” edited by F.W. Moorman (no date given, it appears to be circa 1911, with many poems dating earlier). All illustrations come from “Yorkshire Painted and Described” by Gordon Home (also undated, appears late 19th or early 20th century). I hope very much that you enjoy.
(originally published in Celtic Guide's November 2013 issue)