The Month of October: holidays, folklore and traditions11 min read
“October glows on every cheek,
October shines in every eye,
While up the hill and down the dale
Her crimson banners fly.”
Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863–1953)
In October, fall (or autumn, if you prefer…but what’s the difference?) comes into its full swing.
This month’s name stems from Latin octo, “eight”, because this was simply the eighth month of the early Roman calendar.
When the Romans converted to a 12-month calendar, the name October remain despite that fact that it’s still today the 10th month.
The early Roman calendar, thought to have been introduced by Rome’s first king, Romulus (around 753 b.c) was a lunar calendar, an ancient timekeeping system that contained these 10 months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.
Martius, Maius, Quintilis, and October contained 31 days, while the other months had 30, for a total of 304 days and, in winter, the days were not counted for two lunar cycles.
It wasn’t until about 713 b.c. that a calendar reform, attributed to the second Roman king, Numa Pompilius, added the months Ianuarius and Februarius. Some historians think that both months were placed at the end of the year, while others believe that Ianuarius became the first month and Februarius the last but, in any case, later reforms organized the months as they are arranged today in the Gregorian calendar, and October became the 10th month despite its name.
In Old England, the month was called Winmonath, which means literally “wine month,” because this was the time of year when wine was made. Some also called it Winterfylleth, or “Winter Full Moon”, as they considered this full Moon to be the start of winter.
In weather lore, we note, “If October brings heavy frosts and winds, then will January and February be mild.”
Well…about celebrations, 7th October is the so-called “Lost in the Dark”, celebrated in Peal Twyford Church, Hampshire.
On a dark October night in 1754 William Davis became lost in the Hampshire countryside. He was just about to ride his horse over a cliff when the sound of Twyford’s church bells rang out. As they did so William realised he was heading in the wrong direction and pulled up to take stock. It was then he noted he was on the edge of a deep quarry and had he not stopped would have plunged to certain death. In gratitude he left a pound for a peal of bells to be rung annually with a feast provided for the bell ringers.
The funds ran out long ago but the tradition remains still today.
8th October is the Feast day of St Keyne’s Well, near Liskeard, Cornwall. The most famous holy well in Cornwall is named after Keyne (Cain Wyry – Cain the virgin, 461-505), a Celtic saint who lived in the 5th century. She was the daughter of Brychan, the English King of Brecknock, who dedicated her life to bringing Christianity to the West Country. Legend recalls that she planted four trees around this well, an oak, an elm, a willow and an ash, and as she was dying, she imparted to its waters a strange power.
It is believed that after a wedding the first of the bridal pair to drink from the well would be the dominant partner.
“A well there is in the west country,
And a clearer one never was seen
There is not a wife in the west country
But has heard of the well of St Keyne“.
– Robert Southey (1774 – 1843), English poet.
October 9 is Leif Eriksson Day.
A Norse explorer from Iceland, he is thought to have been the first European to have set foot on continental North America approximately half a millennium before Christopher Columbus!
Second Monday of October is a very busy day, with three holidays packed into it:
– Canadian Thanksgiving, a holiday that shares many similarities with its American equivalent but with a number of things that set it apart, including that it happens a full month and a half before American Thanksgiving, on the second Monday in October.
The tradition originated with the harvest festival, an autumnal celebration meant to show appreciation for the bountiful harvest of the season. However, Canadian Thanksgiving was originally less about celebrating the harvest and more about thanking God for keeping early explorers safe as they ventured into the New World.
In that sense, the earliest report of such a dinner dates back to 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew held a special meal to thank God for granting them safe passage through northern North America, into what is today the Canadian Territory of Nunavut.
Today, the tradition of Thanksgiving it’s primarily seen as a time to gather the family, mark the start of autumn, and celebrate the good food of the season.
Love them or hate them, if Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become a big part of the Thanksgiving season in the United States, in Canada there’s no real post-Thanksgiving shopping craze, and this gives Canadians the chance to focus purely on celebrating the beauty of early October and the harvest!
– Columbus Day in U.S., a federal holiday, is also observed on the second Monday in October.
It was on October 12, 1492, that Christopher Columbus landed on a small island in the Bahamas, convinced that he had reached Asia.
– Indigenous Peoples’ Day (U.S.), on the same day, is a holiday that celebrates the history and cultures of indigenous peoples native to what is today the United States. It is celebrated in cities and states across the country, often alongside or instead of Columbus Day.
13th October is St. Edward’s (The Confessor) Day. A special service commemorates the last Anglo-Saxon King and the Abbey founder. He earned the pious nickname ‘The Confessor’ partly for his monk-like qualities of generosity to the poor and partly due to his unconsummated marriage to Queen Edith.
One of the more famous legends associated with the king recalls when he was riding by a church in Essex and an old man asked for alms. As Edward had no money to give he removed a large ring from his finger and gave this to the beggar. A few years’ later, two pilgrims were travelling in the Holy Land and became stranded. They were helped by an old man and when he knew they came from England he told them that he was St John the Evangelist and asked them to return the ring to Edward telling him that in six months he would join him in heaven. Edward died shortly afterwards, in 1066, to be followed by the ill-fated Harold.
October 18 is St. Luke’s Little Summer, and this is a date steeped in folklore. Traditionally, around Saint Luke’s feast day, there is a period brief period of calm, dry weather.
Traditionally it’s also a day when girls could have some insight into their future marriage prospects, and it isnalso know as Dog Whipping Day, when all the stray dogs in the streets had to be whipped out of town.
21st October is Trafalgar Day. In 1805, a fleet of 27 British ships, under the command of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, engaged and fought a combined French and Spanish force of 33 ships off the coast of South-West Spain, at Trafalgar near the port of Cadiz.
The result was an overwhelming British victory with 19 enemy ships either captured or sunk. More than 7,000 French and Spanish sailors were killed or wounded.
Losses on the British side numbered a mere 700, but amongst them was Nelson himself. The Royal Navy’s greatest hero, whose tactics and leadership had brought about the victory that would establish British domination of the seas for the next 100 years; Nelson had been shot as he paced the quarterdeck of his flagship, HMS Victory, by a sniper from the rigging of the French ship, Redoubtable.
October 24 is United Nations Day, which aims to bring awareness to the work of the United Nations across the world.
Punky Night falls on the last Thursday in October and is a Somerset tradition.
As story goes, some time in the Middle Ages, all the men of Hinto St George went off to a fair. When they failed to return that evening, the women went looking for them by the light of punkies.
“Punky” is another name for a pumpkin which has been hollowed out and has a candle standing inside it. Traditionally on this night, children in the South of England would carve their ‘Punkies’, (pumpkins) into Jack O’Lanterns. Once carved the children would go out in groups and march through the streets, singing traditional ‘punky’ songs, calling in at friendly houses and competing for best lantern with rival groups they meet. The streets would be lit with the light of the Punkies.
Nowadays, on Punky Night in Hinton St George, Somerset, local children join a procession through the village streets, swinging their homemade lanterns and going house to house, singing traditional songs and sometimes getting a few pennies at the front door.
October 31 is Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve)!
Do you know the true history of Halloween?
—and more Halloween stories are here! —
Just for fun, October 1 is International Coffee Day, but also, traditionally, October 1st was the date on which the English pudding season started. These were filled with steak, leaks, mushrooms, spices and some were cooked for as long as sixteen hours!
October 4 is International Ships-in-Bottles Day, but also Vodka and Taco Day. October 6 is National Noodle Day but also Canadian Beer Day (wow!!), October 8 is Pierogi Day (a speciality from Poland) and Egg Day, October 16 is National Fossil Day while October 25 is Frankenstein Friday, but also World Pasta Day. October 27 is Black Cat Day, October 29 Cat Day and the day after, October 30, Hug a Sheep Day (and don’t ask me why).
October is a great time for stargazing.
October’s full Moon, is the Hunter’s Moon and, in 2022, arrives on Sunday, October 9.
Like September’s Harvest Moon, it is closely tied to the autumnal equinox, but also keep an eye out for the Draconid meteor shower in the late evening of October 9, and the Orionid meteor shower in the predawn hours of October 21–22!
With the autumnal equinox in late September, foliage season has officially begun.
But why do leaves change colors?
Interestingly, all’s vivid colors are actually hidden underneath summer’s green, and the main reason for the color change is not autumn’s chilly weather, but light.
Or rather, its lack.
Day and night are roughly equal in length on the autumnal equinox in late September, but afterward, nights are growing longer and days shorter.
Thus, as the autumn days shrink, the reduced daylight tells plants that it’s time to stop gathering energy and get ready for winter. In short the green color of leaves disappears when photosynthesis, from sunlight, slows down and the chlorophyll breaks down.
As a result, trees with a lot of direct sunlight will produce red leaves, while other may turn yellow, orange, or brown.
October is all about ending the harvest and storing your crops, and fall is the best time to plant garlic and bulbs for spring flowers.
Do these tasks soon if you haven’t yet!
October’s birth flowers are the cosmos and the calendula, or marigold.
Cosmos is a symbol of joy in life, love, peace and serenity. Not by chance its name comes from the Greek kosmos, meaning order, harmony, or the world.
Spanish mission priests in Mexico cultivated the flower in the mission gardens, and gave it this name because of its evenly placed petals.
The calendula, or marigold, represents winning grace, grief, or chagrin in the language of flowers. Traditionally it symbolized despair and grief over a loved one. If It may be surprising that such a cheerful flower is associated with the dead, for many cultures, its those bright orange and yellow hues that represent the sunrays or light paths that guide the departed ones. Moreover, bright hues also represent the beauty and warmth of the rising Sun, and its power to resurrect. However today we focus more on sunny colors of the marigold, representing also optimism and prosperity.
The October birthstone is the opal, which symbolizes faithfulness and confidence.
The word comes from the Latin “opalus”, meaning “precious jewel”, and from the Greek word “opallios”, literally “to see a change in color.”
Quality opals are known for their play of color, caused by the diffraction of light, and they are available in several types, including black, fire, and white.
Opals symbolize hope and purity and were once thought to improve eyesight or enhance intuition.
Throughout history, its reputation has oscillated between standing for luck and standing for lack of luck.
Australian aboriginal tribes believed that opals were the Creator’s footprints on Earth, and necklaces with opals set in them were traditionally worn to repel evil and to protect eyesight.
A dream of an opal means that good luck will come.
The other October birthstone is tourmaline, and it comes in a kaleidoscope of colors.
When heated or cooled, these gems develop an electric charge, and the Dutch once used them to remove ash from meerschaum tobacco pipes.
According to an Egyptian legend, tourmaline received its colors as it passed through a rainbow on its way up from Earth’s core.
In any case, the gem symbolizes inspiration and once was believed to protect against evil.
About folklore, when deer are in a gray coat in October, expect a hard winter.
Much rain in October, much wind in December.
A warm October means a cold February.
When birds and badgers are fat in October,
Expect a cold winter
When berries are many in October
Beware a hard winter.
In October dung your fields
And your land its wealth shall yield.
If the October moon comes without frost,
expect no frost till the moon of November.
On St Francis Day, October 4th, swallows are supposed to fly to the bottom of ponds and hibernate through the winter.
In the days before the idea of migration was understood, this seemed a reasonable explanation for their sudden disappearance. The fact that swallows skim the surface of ponds for insects may have been the starting point for this particular folklore…..
Images from web – Google Research