Allantide (in Cornish Calan Gwaf or Nos Calan Gwaf) is a festival celebrated on 31st of October. The festival itself seems to have pre-Christian origins similar to most celebrations on this date, however in Cornwall it was popularly linked to St Allen or Arlan a little known Cornish Saint. Because of the this Allantide is also known as Allan Day. As in all Celtic cultures this time of year was seen as being a significant one and sometimes considered to be the Celtic New Year (although this is disputed). In the Celtic mind this was the point in the year when the veil between this world and the next was most thin. At one point Allantide was a popular time for parties across Cornwall. It is customary to give large polished Red Apples at Allantide which in the past were bought at large “Allan Markets”.
Here follows 2 descriptions of Allantide from 19th Century sources which talk about giving Allan apples and Allan Markets:
The shops in Penzance would display Allan apples, which were highly polished large apples. On the day itself, these apples were given as gifts to each member of the family as a token of good luck. Older girls would place these apples under their pillows and hope to dream of the person whom they would one day marry.
THE ancient custom of providing children with a large apple on Allhallows-eve is still observed, to a great extent, at St Ives. “Allan-day,” as it is called, is the day of days to hundreds’ of children, who would deem it a great misfortune were they to go to bed on “Allan-night” without the time-honoured Allan apple to hide beneath their pillows. A quantity of large apples are thus disposed of the sale of which is dignified by the term Allan Market.
A game sometimes played at Allantide is as follows.
A local game is also recorded where two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended with 4 candles on each outcrop of the cross shape. Allan apples would then be suspended under the cross. The goal of the game was to catch the apples in your mouth, with hot wax being the penalty for slowness or inaccuracy.
Another tradition associated with Allantide was the lighting of “Tindle Fires”, which the Cornish shared in common with the majority of their other Celtic brethren.
Prior to the 20th Century the parish feast of St Just was known as Allantide.
There were also a number of folk divination games played at Allantide including the pouring molten lead into cold water, which, according to tradition, could predict the occupation of a future lover or spouse. The shape of the cooled lead indicating the future job, a broom being a janitor, a gun a soldier and so forth.
Noted folklorist Margaret Courtney records the following Allantide games:
Rolling three names, each written on a separate piece of paper, tightly in the centre of three balls of earth. These were afterwards put into a deep basin of water, and anxiously watched until one of them opened, as the name on the first slip which came to the surfacewould be that of the person you were to marry.
Tying the front door key tightly with your left leg garter between the leaves of a Bible at one particular chapter in the Song of Solomon. It was then held on the forefinger, and when the sweetheart’s name was mentioned it turned round.
Slipping a wedding-ring on to a piece of cotton, held between the forefinger and thumb, saying, “If my husband’s name is to be let this ring swing”.