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October Holidays Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

October 15 (World) Poetry Day
Although not ancient, this holiday and the holidays on the following two days are some of my favorite secular holidays.

Spend some time today reading poetry aloud, perhaps at dinner. Read poems written in different languages today, either translated or in the original language. An exercise I like from my favorite Poetry exercise book, The Practice of Poetry, suggests trying to write a poetic translation of a poem in a language you don't know, simply being guided by the appearance and associations of the words.

Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell Practice of Poetry, HarperPerennial 1992

October 15 Heroines
On the 14th of the Greek lunar month of Pyanepsion, at the time of the full moon the (mysterious) Heroines were celebrated in Erkhia.

Celebrate your own heroines with a ritual in their honor today. Read heroic tales about women or read the biography of a heroic woman.

October 16 Dictionary Day
Make up a short poem using two words chosen at random from two different pages of a dictionary. Or use the dictionary for divination: ask a question, open to any page, let your finger fall on the page without looking at the words, determine how the word you chose informs your question. During an intensive writing class this summer, I gave the writers the task of choosing a word from the dictionary every evening (preferably an unknown or rarely-used word) and writing a poem based on that word.

Buy a new dictionary — my favorite is the version of the American Heritage Dictionary with the Indo-European roots in the appendix. You can use this dictionary to create an etymological word collage: pick an evocative word (my friend Jeanne picked the word "brutal" to describe tango; then write short pieces about your topic linking it to other words derived from the same root (for brutal, these sibling words included blitzkreig, guru, baritone, aggravate and grave).

Or sign up for one of the word-a-day websites. I like Merriam-Webster's offering since they provide an etymological explanation and some history. I use the word as the catalyst for a fifteen minute free-write every morning.

October 17 Black Poetry Day
Like World Poetry Day, except your quest today should be to find and read aloud poems by black poets. Buy a book of poetry by a black poet. I recently discovered Lucille Clifton and love her strong woman poetry, as well as her lovely memoir about her family.

October 17 St Audrey
Not remarkable for much except the evolution of the word "tawdry" because of the poor quality of the lace sold and much admired by country girls during a fair on her feast day on the Isle of Ely.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press

Maypole DanceSt Therese of Lisieux

October 18 St Luke

On Saint Luke's day
The oxen have leave to play.

Patron of painters, apparently because of the beautiful illustrations in the Gospel of St Luke, St Luke was actually a physician. Thus he is also a patron of physicians, surgeons and notaries. Because he is pictured with an ox, he also is a patron of butchers, and, due to the association with horns, of cuckolds despite his lack of wife or children.

St. Luke's special flower is the Marygold
His symbol is a horned ox.

In Charlton, England, St Luke's Day is the Day of the "Horn Fair." Every booth is ornamented with a pair of horns and even the gingerbread is adorned with gilt horns.

This is a lucky day to choose a husband. To dream of your future mate, before going to bed on this night, anoint your stomach, breast and lips with a powder of dried marigold flowers, marjoram, thyme and wormwood, simmered in virgin honey and white vinegar. Then repeat three times

St Luke, St Luke, be kind to me
In dreams let me my true love see.

Watch carefully the visage of your true love. If he smiles, he will be a loving partner but beware if he's rude or uncivil. [Maud Grieve: A Modern Herbal—quoted in Rodale]

You can also determine the name of your true love by finding a pea pod with nine peas in it. Take out the peas and put in a thin slip of paper on which you have written:

Come my dear
And do not fear.

Put the pea pod under the door. The Christian name of the next person to come through the door will be the name of your true love.

Fine weather called St Luke's little summer often occurs in southern England. In Venice, they say San Luca, El ton va te la zuca ("Pumpkins go stale on St Luke's").

In York, this is Whip-dog day, when boys whip dogs through the streets. There are many explanations for this custom, some claiming it is derived from ancient Rome, others that it began when a dog snapped up a consecrate Host dropped by a priest during Mass, which occasioned an animosity towards dogs.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press
Graham, Eleanor,
Happy Holidays, Dutton 1933, pp. 208-9
Grieve, Maud,
A Modern Herbal, www.botanical.com

St Luke
St Luke

October 21 St Ursula
The cathedral of Cologne was built during the late 4th or early 5th century on the site of a tomb of a group of virgin martyrs. This story developed into a legend about Ursula, a British princess, who in order to avoid an unwanted marriage to a pagan prince, went on a pilgrimage to Rome with some companions. They were murdered by the Huns on their way home. The number of her companions changes from the early number of ten to eleven thousand. Ursula is the patron of girls' schools.

Helen Farias says Ursula was originally the German bear goddess, Orsel, and wonders if her companions are the stars in the sky surrounding the constellation of the Bear. Ursa Major, the great She-Bear known to us as the Plough or Dipper. The monthly position of the Bear Goddess's tail at nightfall was used to announce the arrival of the seasons. The Great Bear was known to the Greeks as Artemis and in the Far East as Ma Tsu Po, Queen of Heaven.

On Norway, on this day, no work was to be done that involved using the wheel, such as spinning, milling, etc., suggesting a fascinating connection with the goddess of Fate (see October 19).

Farias, Helen, "The TBP Lunar-Solar Festival Calendar," The Beltane Papers, Issue 3, Beltane 1993.

The Bear:

The bear is a powerful symbol. Archaeologists have claimed that the bear is the oldest deity, based on the niches found in caves across Europe which hold the bones and skulls of bears, arranged with evident care. The word "bear" in English is related to maternity, as in "to bear" children. Bear mothers are known for their devotion. Buffie Johnson's book contains a reproduction of a bear sculpture from 5th century BCE Yugoslavia showing a bear cradling her cub like a Madonna.

Throughout the northern lands, bears are treated with great reverence. Some Scandinavian families claim bears as ancestors. The word mangi means bear in some Siberian dialects but "spirit of ancestors" in others. Lapp shamans transform themselves into bears when they drum. The word for a Siberian woman-shaman is the same as the word for bear.

In his fascinating book, Dawn Behind the Dawn, Geoffrey Ashe explores the association of the Greek Goddess, Artemis, with bears. In one myth, she transforms, Callisto, one of her maidens who has angered her, into a bear and then assigns her to the heavens as the constellation Ursa Major. At the temple of Artemis in Brauronia, during a festival held every five years, two young girls aged five and ten wore yellow bearskin robes and performed the bear dance. Ashe postulates that Indo-European tribes brought from the Northern countries the image of a bear goddess, associated with the Big Dipper, who became Artemis in Greece.

Ashe, Geoffrey, Dawn Behind the Dawn, Holt 1992
Johnson, Buffie,
Lady of the Beasts, Harper San Francisco 1988

October 21 Orionids Meteor Showers
The Orionids meteor shower, named after the constellation Orion because the radiant (point from which the meteors seem to emnate) is located just above Orion's left shoulder, usually peaks on October 21st. Tony Phillips suggests getting up before dawn and looking at any dark part of the sky about 90 degrees away from Orion.

I've always wondered if these shooting stars were the original inspiration for the legend of Ursula's thousand maidens but perhaps not. Gary Kronk, who also tracks meteors on the web, says the Orionids were first identified in 1839.

Kronk, Gary, "The Orionids," http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/orionids.html
Phillips, Tony, "Halley's Comet Returns in Bits and Pieces," Science@NASA website:

October 21 Sh’mini Atzeret
The Jewish festival which closes off the seven days of Sukkoth, celebrated during the waning moon. Arthur Waskow describes it as Seed for Winter. At this pivotal point, both lunar calendar and solar calendar are aligned in the waning phase. Waskow sees it as marking the time for turning inward. Atzeret means putting a boundary, restraining, collecting. This is the first day when a prayer is said for rain. The rationale is that one does not want rain during the nights of sleeping in the sukkah. Also separating the water pouring of Sukkot from the explicit prayer, makes it seem less like an act of sympathetic magic.

The climactic prayer of the evening service:

For You are the Lord our God, who makes the wind blow and the rain fall!--for blessing and not for disaster; for life and not for death; for plenty and not for famine.

can be easily adapted for those who don't believe in the Lord Our God, and might be followed by the favorite Goddess chant:

We all come from the Goddess
And to her we shall return
Like a drop of rain,
Flowing to the Ocean.

For this is a time of looking forward to the winter, a time of death and stillness. The God who revives the dead is invoked in the same prayer as the God who brings the rain. Waskow says this is because it is rain that revives the seeds that are buried underground, mingling the same energy found in the Thesmophoria of fecundity and death.

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon Press 1982

October 22 Simchat Torah
The day following Sh'mini Atzeret in the Jewish ritual calendar is the day when the annual reading of the Torah ends and begins again. The people dance with the Torah rolls and circle the Ark in which they are kept seven times. In some congregations, different groups take the seven virtues of God (Chesed or Loving-Kindness, Gevurah or Severity, Tiferet or Beauty, Netzach or Victory, Hod or Glory, Yesod or Intimacy and Malchut or Majesty) as their theme and create banners, music, stories and dances that symbolize these qualities. Because of the emphasis on dance, in modern times, some congregations learn a new dance on this day.

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon Press 1982

St Francis

October 24 Raphael the Archangel
Patron of travellers, because he accompanies Tobias on a journey to collect a debt from his father's kinsman. His name means God has Healed and in one legend, he cures Tobias of his blindness. He is the Angel of the West.

According to Patricia Banker, of Saints Preserved, he is the patron of healers, druggists, nurses, counselors and therapists, happy meetings and young people leaving home for the first time. See Patricia's lovely visual interpretation of the archangel at: http://patriarts.com/Raphael%20the%20Archangel.htm

October 25 St Crispin & St. Crispinian
These two saints were brothers and shoemakers who were martyred under Diocletian. They are patrons of shoemakers and their festival was celebrated in England by cobblers, giving rise to the rhyme from Ross:

The twenty-fifth of October
Cursed be the cobbler
Who goes to bed sober.

Simpson, Jacqueline, The Folklore of the Welsh Border, Totoway, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1986, p. 165

October 25 St Isidore/Ochossi
Patron of farm workers, his emblem is a sickle.

Ochossi: When those practising African religions were exposed to Christianity, they often adopted the images and holidays of Catholic saints who resembled their gods. Thus Isidore stands in for Ochossi, the Vegetation Deity in the Vodou tradition.

Teish, Luisah, Jambalaya, Harper San Francisco 1984

October 25 Feast of the Holy Souls
The beginning of the 13-day Feast of the Dead for the Tzeltals of Mexico. Graves are decorated with pine needles and tusus (yellow wild flowers).

St Raphael
St Raphael

October 26 St Demeter/St Demetrius
In Albania, this is the day on which houses are prepared for winter. Blankets and sheepskins are brought out and the house made snug. Like other autumn saints, St. Luke and St. Michael, St. Demetrius often brings a spell of good weather called "the summer of St. Demetrius."

In Greece, this is the day for opening and tasting the new wines. In Txando, Thrace, on the eve of St. Demetrius' Day, two men don a camel costume and make rounds of the villlage accompanied by other friends in costume. They wish each household a happy new year and receive gifts of wheat and wine in return.

Megas, George A., Greek Calendar Customs, Athens: B & m Rhodis 1963, pp. 19-20
Spicer, Gladys Dorothy,
The Book of Festivals, The Womans Press 1937

October 27 St Frumentius
Frumentius was a Tyrian sailor who was captured at a Red Sea port and sold as a slave to the king of Asum in Ethiopia. He worked his way up from secretary to seneschal and finally freedom. His feast was celebrated in Louisiana, "as a gesture towards the African slaves."

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press

October 27 Good Bear Day
I found this holiday in the now-defunct Festivals magazine and I believe it's related to Theodore Roosevelt and his connection with the Teddy Bear but I am not sure.Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press

October 27 Chalkeia
On the 30th day of the lunar month of Pyanepsion, the warp was set for the loom which was used to weave a new peplum for Athena, to be bestowed upon her at the Panathenaia, a festival in her honor held at the start of the Greek year (approximately September 1st). Women called the Workers spent almost a year weaving the elaborate garment in bright colors.

Parke, H.W., Festivals of the Athenians, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 1977

October 28 New Moon in Scorpio
The new moon of the tenth Chinese lunar month is called the Kindly Moon
This is the start of the Greek month of Maimakterion and the Jewish month of Cheshvan.

October 28 Czech Thanksgiving
According to Barbara Trousil, a Czech immigrant to Chicago interviewed by Weppner, the proper foods to eat at Czech Thanksgiving include roast goose, liver dumpling soup, kielbasy, saeurkraut, dumplings and apple strudel. She says "The first day you go to church, and the second day you dance, and maybe another day after that."

Weppner, Elieen, The International Grandmother's Cookbook, Boulder CO: Blue Mountain Arts, 1974, p. 57.

October 28 Days of the Dead
In Puebla in Mexico, the accidentados (the souls of those who died in accidents) return on this day, followed by the angelitos (the souls of dead children) who show up at noon on October 31, to be followed by the souls of dead adults on November 1st. Altars are adorned with candles, food, and marigolds, the flowers of the dead. Sometimes paths of flower petals are laid to guide the souls from the street to the altar.

October 28 Ss Simon and Jude

Simon and Jude
All the ships on the sea home they do crowd

They were among the Twelve Apostles. Some say they were shepherds to whom the Christ Child's birth was announced by the Angels. According to tradition Simon was martyred by being sawn in half, thus he is the patron of woodcutters. Jude is the patron of hopeless causes, because of his obscurity and unpopularity (due, no doubt to his association (by name) with the traitor, Judas).

In England, it is certain to rain heavily on the day of Simon and Jude. Venetians say San Simon Squarzavele brings the winter winds.

On this day, carefully peel an apple in one long strip and turn around thrice with the peel in your right hand repeating

St Simon and Jude, on you I intrude
By this paring I hold to discover
Without any delay, tell me today
The first letter of my own true lover

Then drop the peel over your left shoulder where it will form the initial of your future spouse's surname. If it breaks in pieces, you'll probably never marry.

St Jude's day is famous for baked warden pears sold by Bedford boys in the streets. Their cry went like this:

Who knows what I have got?
In a hot pot
Baked wardens—all hot
Who knows what I have got?

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
Yearbook of English Festivals, NY:HW Wilson & Company 1954

October 28 Day of the No
This commemorates an important political event, the day the Greeks refused the Italian ultimatum of 1940 (which led to their invasion) but I also like knowing that there's a holiday that celebrates the virtues of saying No.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press

October 29 Allan Day
Eat a very large apple (allan is apple) on awakening this day, without speaking a word, and you will dream of your future mate

October 29 St Ida of Leeuw
This fourteenth century Cistercian nun had a passion for copying and correcting liturgical books which makes her seem a great candidate for to be the patron saint of proofreaders.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press

October 29 Delivering Winter Clothes
The third festival of the dead celebrated during the year. On the first day of the tenth Chinese lunar month, the Chinese often visit graves where they burn offerings of winter clothes and notes drawn on the Bank of Hell, wrapped in parcels and addressed to the intended recipient. Often a Bill of Lading is drawn up, an inventory of the items sent, which is signed and counter-signed by witnesses. This bill is burnt with the other items, so that the dead can be assured they received everything. Sometimes an extra parcel is burnt to propitiate hungry spirits who might otherwise steal the offerings. The gifts are usually exhibited in the home first (where the ancestors can partake of them spiritually). They are burnt outside in the courtyard or near the graves.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Eberthard, Wolfran, Chinese Festivals, NY: Henry Schuman 1952, pp. 135-6

October 31 Halloween

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