Facts about November in England
The name comes from the Roman word 'novem' meaning nine, because it was the ninth month in their Roman calendar.
Few people find November pleasant. The Anglo-Saxons called November 'Wind monath', because it was the time when the cold winds began to blow. They also called it 'Blod monath', because it was the time when cattle were slaughtered for winter food. The poet T.S. Elliot called it 'Sombre November'.
Sir Walter Scott, in his long poem Marmion, wrote in 1808:
November's sky is chill and drear,
All Saints' Day - 1 November
In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church made 1st November a church holiday to honour all the saints. This feast day is called All Saints' Day.
All Saints' Day used to be known as All Hallows (Hallow being an old word meaning Saint or Holy Person). The feast day actually started the previous evening, the Eve of All Hallows or Hallowe'en.
Christians remember all the saints
On Saints' Day, Christians remember all 'men of good will' (saints), great ones and forgotten ones, who have died through the ages.
Saints are men and women from all ages and all walks of life, who were outstanding Christians. Some - the martyrs - died for their faith. All of them are honoured by the church.
All Souls' Day - 2 November
On All Souls' Day the Roman Catholic Church remembers all those who have died - not just the great and the good, but ordinary man-in-the-street. Families visit graves with bunches of flowers and in church the names of the dead may be read out on request. In some parts of the country, All Souls' Day ends with a play or some songs.
All Souls Day Tradition
According to tradition, a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land took refuge on a rocky island during a storm. There he met a hermit, who told him that among the cliffs was an opening to the infernal regions through which flames ascended, and where the groans of the tormented were distinctly audible. The pilgrim told Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, who appointed the following day (2 November 998) to be set apart for 'all the dead who have existed from the beginning of the world to the end of time'. The day purposely follows All Saints' Day in order to shift the focus from those in heaven to those in purgatory.
Before the Reformation, it was customary for poor Christians to offer prayers for the dead, in return for money or food (soul cakes), from their wealthier neighbours.
During the 19th and 20th centuries children would go 'souling' - rather like carol singing - requesting alms or soul cakes:
A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
The 'Soulers' would go around the houses singing this song and often joined by their old friend, the hobby horse - only at this time of the year, he is called the Hooden Horse (see photo right).
A Soul Cake is like a hot cross bun but without the currants or the cross on top
Soul Cake Recipe
175 Gram Butter, softened (6 oz)
Oven: 180 °C / 350 °F / Gas 4. bake 20-25 minutes.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks. Sift flour and spices, add and mix to a stiff dough. Knead thoroughly and roll out, 1/4 inch thick; cut into 3 inch rounds and set on greased baking sheets. Prick cakes with a fork and bake; sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar while still warm.
All Souls' Day Superstition
The 4th November is called Mischief Night in some parts of the country. This was the night when all sorts of naughty things were done - the main idea being to put things in the wrong place.
In north-east Derbyshire and south Yorkshire villages, children would engage in a bout of Jolly Minering. A local variant on Penny for a Guy traditions, the aim was to raise money for sweets and fireworks. Their alms song started like this:
We're three Jolly Miners, and we're not worth a pin,
The song itself comes from an earlier time when the aim of the activity was to gather coal, either for the 'bonfire hole', or simply to light fire to cook and 'make the kettle sing'.
Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) (5 th)
Bonfire Night is the most widespread and flourishing of all British customs. The day was declared a holiday by decree of Parliament after Parliament was saved from being blown up by Guy Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Until 1859, all parish churches were required to hold services this day. Unlike today, celebrations were heard throughout the day, with bells ringing, cannons firing and beer flowing.
Today, as in for the last 400 years, effigies of the pope and now more often Guy Fawkes or other 'hated' figures, are burned on top of large bonfires. As the bonfires burn fireworks are let off in wonderful and spectacular displays.
Just as in 1605, a new session of Parliament in London is still opened by the reigning monarch at the beginning of November. If there has been a general election in the same year, the opening of Parliament is in May.
Find out more about the custom on our Guy Fawkes page.
Martinmas Day (11th)
The Feast of St Martin, Martinmas was a time for celebrations with great feasts and hiring fairs, at which farm labourers would seek new posts.
It was also the time when autumn wheat seedling was usually completed in many places, including the south of Derbyshire. Here it was the farmer's custom to provide a cakes-and-ale feast for workers. These special cakes were made with seeds and whole grains, and called Hopper Cakes.
Tradition food eaten on Martinmas
Beef was the day's traditional meat dish.
Since 1918 the 11th has been commemorated as Armistice Day, and all remnants of the old Martinmas celebrations have disappeared.
Other Festivals and Traditions
Guy Fawkes Day ( Bonfire Night) - 5th November
In November 1605, the infamous Gunpowder Plot took place in which some Catholics plotted to blow up the English Parliament and King James l, on the day set for the king to open Parliament. The men were angry because the king had treated them badly and they didn't like it.
The story is remembered each 5th November when 'Guys' are burned in a celebration known as "Bonfire Night"
The Lord Mayor's Show
The Lord Mayor's Show takes place in London on the second Saturday in November, to mark the start of the new Lord Mayor of London's year in office. The first Lord Mayor's Show was held in 1215 and since its conception only major events such as the Black Death - and in 1852, the funeral of the Duke of Wellington - have stopped the show.
Armistice Day - 11th November
People remember the millions of soldiers who died in the two World Wars and in other wars.
Click here to find out more about Armistice Day (Remembrance Day)
St Cecilia's Day - 22nd November
St Cecilia is thought to have been a Roman maiden who was martyred in the second or third century. Her story is told in the 'Second Nun's Tale' in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. She is usually portrayed with an organ, and is the patron saint of musicians.
Concerts and recitals are often given on St Cecilia's Day.
Stir Up Sunday
The last Sunday of the Church Year, or the Sunday before Advent, is often called 'Stir-up Sunday'. Stir-up Sunday is the traditional day for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas pudding, whilst making a wish.
St Andrews Day - 30th November
On 30 November, Scottish people celebrate St Andrew's Day. St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland.
Weather-lore, beliefs and sayings
"Wind north-west at Martinmas, severe winter to come."
"If ducks do slide at Martinmas
"Thunder in November means winter will be late in coming and going"
"If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."
Ice before Martinmas,
"Frost in November to hold a duck The rest of the winter is slush and muck."
"If the leaves of the trees and grape vines do not fall before Martin’s Day, a cold winter may be expected. "
"A warm November is the sign of a bad Winter."
"Flowers bloomin' in late Autumn,
"As high as the weeds grow,