Saints, Souls, and Haints: Nuts

Photo credit: Martin LaBar
Photo credit: Martin LaBar

Nuts, being a delicacy associated with autumn, seem to naturally be part of the Halloween pantry of the past. And Robert Chambers elaborated on this in his 1883 The Book of Days: a Miscellany of Popular Antiquities:

Indeed the name of Nutcrack Night, by which Halloween is known in the north of England, indicates the predominance of the former of these articles in making up the entertainments of the evening. They are not only cracked and eaten, but made the means of vaticination in love-affairs. And here we quote from Burns’s poem of Halloween:

The auld guidwife’s well-hoordit nits,
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads’ and lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi’ saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu’ high that night.Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, is more explicit: ‘ It is a custom in Ireland, when the young women would know if their lovers are faithful, to put three nuts upon the bars of the grate, naming the nuts after the lovers. If a nut cracks or jumps, the lover will prove unfaithful; if it begins to blaze or burn, he has a regard for the person making the trial If the nuts named after the girl and her lover burn together, they will be married.”

Halloween walnuts
Vintage Postcard, early 1900s

A Scots song sums it all up;

Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart’s name ;
This with the loudest bounce me sore amazed,
That in a flame of brightest colour blazed;
As blamd the nut so may thy passion grow,
For ’twas thy nut that did so brightly glow !

Note: “Haints” comes from a slang term used for “ghost” in the American South.


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