British Traditions > November

Until July and August were added to the calendar in Roman times, November, as the name suggests, was the ninth month of the year. The Anlgo-Saxons called this month Blodmonath because of ritual slaughter and the killing of animals to be salted down for the winter months ahead.

When the calendar changed from Julian to Gregorian the date of the celtic festival of Samhain moved from November the 12th to November the 1st. Samhain was a quarter day and also the beginning of the Celtic new year - the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. As well as the slaughter and sacrifice great fires were lit. Most of these practices are now attached to Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night and All Saints Day.

All Saints' Day - 1st November


This is a day for the celebration of all the saints who do not have their own special day.

All Souls' Day - 2nd November


On this day prayers are said for the dead.

St. Martin's Day - 11th November


St. Martin's Day or Martinmas falls on the 11th of November. This was traditionally the day for slaughtering the surplus livestock which could not be fed over winter. The meat would be salted or smoked and stored to be used during the long, cold months until spring. It was also a day when various rents were collected and tenancies began and ended.

Sometimes at this time of year there is a warm spell often known as St. Martin's Little Summer.

Martinmas was decreed a feast day by Pope Martin 1st in the seventeenth century but it also has strong associations with the ancient new year festivities of early November.

In some areas of Ireland and Scotland there was a tradition of shedding blood on St Martin's Eve (a tradition also associated with New Year). In each household an animal would be ceremonially killed and eaten. In some areas right up until the nineteenth century the blood of the dead animal would be sprinkled indoors and out. The sign of the cross was made in blood on both sides of the door and on the foreheads of all family members. After 1918 November the 11th with its tradition of bloodshed and slaughter became known as Armistice Day, the day on which World War 1 ended.

St. Clement's Day - November the 23rd


St. Catherine
November the 23rd is the day of St. Clement, the patron saint of blacksmiths. It was celebrated at Twyford in Hampshire with a ceremony called "Firming the Anvil" which involved making a small explosion in a hole in an anvil with gunpowder.

Similar celebrations were held in other areas and sometimes and effigy of St. Clement was carried around the town or village to collect money for a feast. The effigy was called "Old Clem" and the collecting of money "Clementing". Clementing was widespread in the Midlands but did not seem to be associated with blacksmiths as the the children would go from door to door asking for apples and pears. Special spiced cakes called "Clementing Cakes" were sold at the Clementide Sheep Fair at Lambourn in Berkshire. This always took place on December the 4th which was St. Clement's day in the old Gregorian calendar.

St Catherine's Day - November the 25th


St. Catherine
St. Catherine is the patron saint of lace makers and spinsters (spinners). In lace making areas (Herefordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire) the day was celebrated with a holiday and the eating of Catherine Cakes (also known as Cattern Cakes).

In lace making schools where lace making was taught in addition to ordinary lessons the children danced around the huge candle used to light the room where lace making was taught. In some parts of the Midlands, St. Catherine's day became linked with the traditions of St. Clement's day and children went from door to door asking for food or money.