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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 November 2009

Happy November!


It's Thanksgiving week for those of us here in U.S., but my characters wouldn't have celebrated Thanksgiving. But there are lots of other things they might have been celebrating in November, many of which I think might be new to American readers. I have a fantastic book The English Year: A Month-by-Month Guide to The Nation's Customs and Festivals from May Day to Mischief Night that is a goldmine of ideas for things my characters might do . . .

November 1 All Saints' Day
November 2 All Souls' Day

Little distinction seems to have been made between the two days (which were also sometimes called Hallowmas; look familiar?). The celebrations included going "souling": wandering door to door for gifts of soul cakes or money and mugs of hot cider. The children even had a traditional song:

A soul-cake, a soul-cake
Have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul-cake.


The giving of the cakes was supposed to help the giver's soul, while the consumption was supposed to help those in purgatory (don't ask me how). This idea fell away with the Reformation, but bands of souling children making house calls continued . . .

November 5 Guy Fawkes Night

I'm sure many of you are at least passingly familiar with Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Bonfires rule the night, fireworks too. Often the pope was burnt in effigy (Fawkes being a Catholic), and anti-Catholic riots were not uncommon. In the northern counties, an oatmeal gingerbread called Parkin was baked and given out (recipes dating as far back as 1800 can be found).

November 11 St. Martin's Day; Fenny Poppers

I love specific local customs! In Fenny Stratford, starting in 1724, an annual sermon is read in memory of a local squire. At the end, six small cannons are fired off, at noon, 2PM and 4PM.

November 13 St. Brice's Day

More local customs: this Saint's Day is celebrated in Stamford with a running of the bulls! Or bull, as it was just one. The town was boarded up for safety, the bull released, and then harried through the streets by men and dogs (it was a working-class celebration), they chased it to a bridge and heaved it over, then hunted it down in the field once it climbed out, killed it, roasted it, and had a huge party. By the 1780s the local authorities were trying to suppress it (unsuccessfully), but the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had managed to turn local opinion against it, and the last bull run took place in 1839.

November 17 Queen Elizabeth Day


Sermons, bonfires and ringing bells. So popular was this day that Charles I felt it overshadowed the celebrations for his own birthday!


November 30 St. Andrew’s Day; Squirrel hunting


More fun local customs: In Buckinghamshire and Northhamptonshire they celebrated by going out into the woods to kill squirrels, though mostly the hunt was an excuse to wander about, make merry, and be as loud as possible.


Also on St. Andrew’s Day (from 1766 on) is the famous Wall Game at Eton between the Collegers (scholarship boys) and the Oppidans (normal fee payers). Basically it sounds like a bit like a game of rugby, but played all against a wall (hence the name).


Any strange local holidays or festivals where you live?







4 Comments:

Blogger Christine Trent said...

Where I live we have an Oyster Festival each year. Yep, oysters any way you want 'em. Even in a shooter: a raw oyster slathered in tabasco sauce and topped with beer. It's not a pretty sight, but locals love them. And "King Oyster" walks around in his royal robes, talking with visitors.

I love Steve Roud's book. It's fabulous for research.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ooooo, I want to go to the Oyster Festival! Where is this? We have our own little annual oyster day every year. We all play hookey from work and go out to Hearts Desire Beach with buckets and buckets of oysters, wine, soup, and bread.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

love local holidays. We're gearing up for one this evening on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: everyone turns out to watch them inflate the balloons for the annual Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It's a zoo of people (and nylon and helium) on 77th and 81st Streets bordering the American Museum of Natural History, but it's so much fun. Central Park West is closed to vehicular traffic for several blocks tonight and everyone on the street is just grinning from ear to ear. People bring their kids, or make a "date night" out of it, and there are plenty of nostalgic adults with a tear in the corner of their eyes who don't need a tot in tow to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Whenever I head over to watch the great balloon inflation I always come home with a craving for hot cocoa.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Leslie, that sounds like a blast!

12:55 PM  

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