How the first day of winter was celebrated in the Highlands

Every home lit a bonfire on the night of November 1 in a 'defiant welcome' to the coldest months of the years. PIC: Creative Commons/Angie Perkins.
Every home lit a bonfire on the night of November 1 in a 'defiant welcome' to the coldest months of the years. PIC: Creative Commons/Angie Perkins.
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The coming of winter was marked by "more fun and merriment that any other season of the year," according to revered folklorist John Gregorson Campbell.

A feast of games, ceremonies rituals were carried out to celebrate All Saint's Day or Hallowmass on November 1 as young and old congregated to face the winter together.

Much of the focus after the sun went down was on foretelling the future husbands and wives.

Gregorson wrote that the rituals practised across the Highlands and Islands were likely Pagan in origin with the date a cause of great excitement.

READ MORE: 13 old superstitions from the Highlands and Islands
Here we look at six ways the day was marked, according to Gregorson, who collected folklore and customs from across the Highlands and Islands during the second half of the 19th Century.

1. Lighting fires

On the last day of autumn, October 31, children gathered up tar barrels and ferns and other items for bonfire.

These would be piled up on a good prominent spot close to the family home and set fire in the evening of November 1. The fires were called Samhnagan

"There was one for each house, and it was an object of ambition who should have the biggest. Whole districts were brilliant with bonfires, and their glare across a Highland loch, and from many eminences, formed and exceedingly picturesque scene."

Gregorson described the fire lighting as a "natural and defiant" welcome to the season that demanded warmth the most.

READ MORE: 9 photographs that prove autumn is the best season in Scotland
2.Throwing shoes

This was one of the many games played at night on November 1 to try and pinpoint the identity of a future husband or wife.

The direction of the future spouse would be pinpointed by throwing a shoe over the house. In whatever direction the toe points on the other side, the thrower will go before long, Gregorson wrote.

It was considered unlucky if the shoe was found with the sole facing up.

3.Fortune telling egg whites

The marks made by egg whites dropped into a glass of water were said to predict how many children a person would have. This was a popular game of the night,.

4. Burning nuts

Two nuts were put on he fire beside each other, representing a boy and girl whose names were made known to the room.

"As they burned together, or flared up alone, or leaped away from each other, the future marriage of the pair - or rejection of each other - was inferred," Gregorson wrote.

5. Hiding rings in a plate of crowdie

A ring was hidden in a plate of milk and meal with spoons handed out the room. A "vigorous attack" was made on the dish and whoever got the ring would prove to be the first married.

6. Apples and sixpence

A fruit and a coin were put in a basin of water, with the challenge to pull out both items without using hands or teeth.

The person with the apple took the fruit into a room and divided it into nine pieces. Eight pieces were eaten with their back to looking glass and the face looking over a left shoulder.

On throwing the ninth piece across the same shoulder, the image of the future spouse was seen in the looking glass, it was believed.

-from the Gaelic Otherworld by John Gregorson Campbell, published by Birlinn Books