One of my favourite bloggers A Clerk of Oxford tweeted that today – September 14 – was once called ‘Devil’s Nutting Day’.
The Devil has an affinity with nutting apparently.
Nutting on any Sunday was risky – you might meet Old Nick as a tall, gentlemanly figure kind enough to offer to pull down high branches for you. Otherwise it was today – Holy Rood day – that was especially favoured. This, from a letter John Clare sent to his friend William Hone:
(quoted in The English Year by Steve Roud)
Once you start looking, there’s a lot of information about. Renne Reynolds on her blog (Obstinate Headstrong Girl) writes that:
The tradition of a Nutting Day dates back to 1560 Eton, when boys were given a half-holiday to gather nuts, creating the phrase “gone a-nutting.” Consequently, as one might suspect from a tradition associated with young boys, going “a-nutting” soon became a euphemism for sex and seduction, giving rise to its own saying, “a good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”
I suspect the link between nutting, bad behaviour and old Nick stretches much further back myself.
On another site (German this time, intended for people learning English, although an earnest student would be certainly be met with incomprehension if he used the reference with the average Englisher) the story begins with :
The Devil’s Nightcap (there are several hills with this name) near Alcester, in Warwickshire…formed when the devil was out nutting on September 21st (known as the Devil’s Nutting Day) and met the Virgin Mary. He was so surprised and shocked that he dropped his bag of nuts, which became the hill.
There is an old Sussex saying ‘as black as the Devil’s nutting bag’, which is associated with the superstition that it is extremely unwise to gather nuts in autumn on a Sunday because that is when Old Nick is himself out nutting. Generally people do not go nutting on any Sunday in autumn because you might meet the devil gathering nuts.
It is mentioned in the play, John Endicott, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –
ACT I: SCENE II –
Angels in broad-brimmed hats and russet cloaks,
The colour of the Devil’s nutting-bag. They came
Into the Meeting-house this afternoon
More in the shape of devils than of angels.
The women screamed and fainted; and the boys
Made such an uproar in the gallery
I could not keep them quiet.”