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A month by month of forgotten legends and pastimes from Britain's folk history
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Facts about November

Gemstone: Topaz
Flower: Chrysanthemum


Traditions and festivals in November include All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Mischief Night, Bonfire Night, Rememberence Day and Stir Up Sunday


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 carnival charactercattle 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,
November's leaf is red and sear (withered)'

The first week of November has always been a time of festivals and celebrations marking the end of the harvest and beginning of Winter.


All year round 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 Hallows

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 Saints' Day, together with All Souls' Day are know collectively as Hallowtide.

02All year round 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.

All year roundSoul Cakes

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.
Please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we'll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Hooden horseCrying for butter to butter his cake
One for St. Peter, two for St. Paul,
Three for the man who made us all.

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).

All year round What is a Soul Cake?

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)
175 Gram Caster sugar (6 oz)
3 Egg yolks
450 Gram Plain flour (1 lb)
Pinch Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground mixed spice, or ground allspice
Warm milk

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 year round All Souls' Day Superstition

It was believed that All Souls' night when the dead revisited their homes, so lit candles were left out to guide them and meals and wine were left as refreshment.

04All year round Mischief Night

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,
So give us a piece of coal and we'll make the kettle sing.

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'.

Back to history of Halloween

05All year round 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. 

bonfir night

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.

11All year round 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.

Martinmas today

Since 1918 the 11th has been commemorated as Armistice Day, and all remnants of the old Martinmas celebrations have disappeared.

All year round Other Festivals and Traditions

05Guy 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"

Click here to find out more about Bonfire Night

dateThe 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.

Pearly Kingcarnival charactercarnival float

date 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)

dateSt 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.

date 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.

Click here to find out more about Stir-up Sunday

dateSt Andrews Day - 30th November

On 30 November, Scottish people celebrate St Andrew's Day. St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland.

Click here to find out more about St Andrew's Day

Unusual Customs

All year round Weather-lore, beliefs and sayings

If the wind is in the south-west on St Martins Day (11th), it will stay there right through to Candlemas in February, thus ensuring a mild and snow-free winter.

"Wind north-west at Martinmas, severe winter to come."

"If ducks do slide at Martinmas
At Christmas they will swim;
If ducks do swim at Martinmas
At Christmas they will slide

"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,
Enough to bear a duck.
The rest of winter,
Is sure to be but muck!"

"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,
A sure sign of a bad Winter comin'."

"As high as the weeds grow,
So will the bank of snow."

All year round Anniversaries

November 1969 First colour TV advert aired in the UK for Birds Eye.
4th Thursday in Nov. Thanksgiving – USA, commemorates the Pilgrim Father’s first harvest.
1st November All Saints' Day.
2nd November All Souls' Day.
2nd November 1785 First non-submersible lifeboat was patented.
2nd November 1896 First motor insurance policies were issued in Britain. They excluded damage caused by frightened horses!
3rd November 1957 The first living creature was sent into space. It was a Russian dog named Laika and the ship was called Sputnik 2. Laika could not be brought home.
3rd November 1843 Nelson's statue was hauled to the top of the column in Trafalgar Square.
4th November 1922

English explorers Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter discover the Tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt.

5th November 1605 Roman Catholic Guy Fawkes and several of his co-conspirators are arrested in London when guards discover them planting 30 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar underneath the Houses of Parliament. All are later executed for treason. The 'Gunpowder Plot' is commemorated each year in Britain on 'Guy Fawkes Night' ( Bonfire Night.)
6th November 1942 The Church of England relaxes its rule that women must wear hats in church.
7th November 1783 Last public hanging in England - forger John Austin is hanged at Tyburn,near where Marble Arch now stands .
7th November Marie Curie, a Polish-French Chemist and Physicist, who discovered radium, was born.
8th November 1920 The newspaper 'The Daily Express' publishes the first 'Rupert Bear' strip cartoon.
8th November 1974 The world famous fruit and vegetable market at Covent Garden in London closes after existing for more than 300 years.
9th November 1885 The first motorbike was ridden
9th November 1989 The Berlin Wall came down. East Germany opens its borders to West Germany.
11th November Remembrance Day. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends.
11th November Martinmas / Martins Mass / Martins Goose
13th November 1850 Robert Louis Stevenson, author of "Treasure Island" was born.
13th November 1907 First helicopter took off.
14th November 1896 The speed limit for horseless carriages in Britain was raised from 4 m.p.h. to 14 m.p.h.
18th November 1991 Terry Waite was released from captivity in Beirut.
20th November 1992 Windsor Castle is badly damaged by fire.
21st November 1783 First flight by man in a hot air balloon.
22nd November Feast Day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians and organ builders.
23rd November St. Clement’s Day. In England long ago he was regarded as the patron of Blacksmiths as he was martyr by being tied to an anchor and being tossed into the sea.
25th November Catterntide / St. Catherine’s Day. Martyred by being broken on a spiked wheel, her symbol therefore is a wheel and Catherine Wheel fireworks are named after her.
27 th November 1914

Britain's first policewoman goes on duty at Gratham in Lincolnshire.

30th November 1874 Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, born.
30th November St. Andrew’s Day. Patron saint of Scotland.

All year round

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