Nutcrack Night

20 Oct

October 31st, known as Halloween to most, is also called a variety of other names in different parts of the world, including Samhain, Mischief Night and the Day of the Dead. In the Gaelic diaspora, the holiday is also traditionally known as Nutcrack Night. As the chill of autumn pervaded their homes, people would sit around their fires, eating newly harvested hazelnuts or chestnuts. Several fortune-telling customs grew up that involved throwing nuts into the fire, hence giving rise to the name ‘Nutcrack Night’ or ‘The Oracle of the Nuts’. It was a time, for example, when young people put nuts on the hearth to see if their sweethearts were true to them. If the nut burned normally, all was well, but if it burst or rolled away the sweetheart was, alas, untrue. In ancient times nuts were also an early divination tool, in the absence of more modern accoutrements such as crystal balls, tarot cards, runes and other arcana. The reason for this was simple – around the end of the harvest season, often there was not much left in the fields. However, nuts were often plentiful, making them the perfect medium for divination in the dying embers of autumn.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns recorded several related customs about this day, one of which was a fortune-telling game for a young couple in which two nuts were put in the fire. Their future was predicted depending on whether the nuts burned quietly together or jumped apart. A young man might give each nut the name of a possible sweetheart and watch to see which burned the brightest in the flames – if a nut burned brightly it meant that the thrower would be alive in twelve months time, and if it flared up especially brightly it meant marriage within twelve months. A young woman, meanwhile, who wanted to know if her boyfriend was faithful would put three nuts on the bars of the fireplace grate, naming one nut for herself and the others for two boyfriends. If a nut cracked or jumped, the lover would prove unfaithful; if it began to blaze or burn, he liked the girl making the trial. If the nuts named after the girl and her boyfriend burned together, the couple would one day wed.

On a more mystical note, the hazelnut, like the tree itself, was believed to possess divining powers which were held to be especially potent on Halloween. The nut was also a symbol of life and fertility. Hence, it was customary for folk to gather round the fire and crack nuts, not only to be eaten, but for them to be tossed on the fire as well, to be made the oracles of the occasion. If the nuts burned with a blue flame, this meant that the spirits were nearby – sometimes ashes were even raked smooth on the hearth at bedtime and examined for footprints the next day, just to check whether the spirits had paid the house a visit! These days, not many people remember the spiritual associations between Halloween and nut cracking. It might be something to think about though, as a healthier alternative to toffee apples and chocolate bars this All Hallows Eve!

See also:

As The Days Grow Shorter…

A Halloween Tale

October Dreams

A Treat for All Hallows’ Eve

The Day of the Dead

Winter Masks


7 Responses to “Nutcrack Night”

  1. MarketaDee October 20, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Never heard of Nutcrack Night – nice one!

  2. Stop Along The Way October 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    ‘The Oracle of the Nuts’. I’m going to have to use that, albeit in a different context. Lol!

  3. wildninja October 22, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    Cool. Cheap trick or treat candy– uncracked nuts. I’ll just gather some from under the neighbor’s tree and when the kids look at me quizzically, I’ll just explain that it’s an old and important tradition. You saved me a lot of money– I won’t have to buy Kit Kats and Twizzlers this year… 🙂

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