January 20 & 21
St. Agnes’s Eve and St. Agnes’s Day
St. Agnes was a Roman Catholic child martyr who was beheaded in the year 304 A.D., for refusing to marry. Her eve has traditionally been a time for lovers’ divination—especially divination by fire. One very old custom tells: To be sure to dream of your future husband tonight, fast strictly and keep silent all day. On no account allow anyone—not even a child—to kiss you. At bedtime you must dress in your finest night-dress, then boil an egg. When the egg is hard, take out the yolk, fill the space with salt, and eat the egg, shell and all. Then walk backwards to bed while saying:
“Fair St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart.
Not in his best or worse array,
But in the clothes he wears every day.”
You will then surely dream of your intended, but tell no one of your dream or the spell will be broken.
Guy Fawkes Night
Guy Fawkes Night is one of the most widespread and thriving of all the British holidays and one that was decreed by an act of Parliament. It was in the early hours of November 5, 1605, that Guy Fawkes was arrested. He had hidden 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar of Parliament and planned to blow it up that day, an act that would have wiped out the entire government of England–clearing the way for a Roman Catholic coup.
There are several theories, one of which claims that the gunpowder plot was covertly encouraged by an administration anxious to discredit its Catholic opponents. Whatever the truth, the act sparked a nationwide explosion of patriotism and Protestant enthusiasm. The commemoration has become a night replete with bonfires, beer-drinking, fireworks and bands of children begging for money. Topping off the evening’s festivities, effigies of Guy Fawkes are tossed onto the bonfires.