traditional among the Acadians, asserts that not only did the dumb
animals kneel in their stalls on Christmas night, but that they also
spoke among themselves. The ‘‘wise people” forbade anyone to go to the
stable to verify this tradition, for the rash individual who would
venture to do so was certain to die during the coming year. However, one
Christmas night an old school-master who gloried in a certain knowledge
of Latin, and who could not be deceived very easily, determined to test
its truth. He went into the stable quite boldly, but his bravado did not
continue long. Lo and behold! on the stroke of midnight the cock in a
soprano voice sang: “Christus natus est; Christ-us natus est!” The ox in
a baritone voice began asking, also in Latin: “Ubi? Ubi? Ubi?” a
question to which the ass replied in a basso profundo voice: “Bethlehem!
The schoolmaster nearly died on the spot with fear. The legend does not
relate whether or not he had to pay the penalty of his rashness; but
this part of the legend was verified in the case of a Nova Scotia
Highlander, who evidently was also skeptical about the tradition. This
latter went to the barn shortly before midnight on Christmas night, and
took care that the horses would not see him. On the stroke of midnight,
his two horses began to speak of the heavy load they would have to carry
in two days’ time, when they would have to bear their good, kind master
to his grave. They expressed their regret in no uncertain terms. Two
days later their master died. (Popular tradition).
It was believed that the power of speech was taken from the animals
because they carried so much harmful gossip:
On Christmas night every window in the house had its lighted candle to
light Our Blessed Lady on her way to Bethlehem. The old people would not
use for this purpose candles that they bought; they did not consider
them worthy; so they made their own in molds for that occasion.
Saturday.—It was "piously believed that on Saturday night Our Lady
visited every kitchen in the land; consequently, good housewives were
very careful that everything was ‘‘spic and span” about their kitchens
in anticipation of this visit.
It was believed that even if it rained all the rest of the week, the sun
was sure to come out on Saturday, were it only for a few minutes in
honor of Our Blessed Lady.
All Souls’ Day.—Christian and pagan elements seem to combine in the
practices of this day. The fact that every window was lighted with
candles savors of the pagan illumination of houses on the feast of the
dead, to light the shades on their return to their own home, and back
again to the land of the dead. On this day the old people used to carry,
personally, food to their poorer neighbors. There seems to be something
quite pagan about the injunctions given and carried out by careful
housewives on All Souls’ Night not to throw water out of doors for fear
of harming the spirits who might be roaming about. (Popular tradition).
May Day.—It is a custom among Catholic farmers to sprinkle their cattle
with holy water early in the morning of this day. In one district at
least in Cape Breton, in addition to this usual sprinkling, the hair on
the backs of the animal is singed with the flame of a blessed candle.
These ceremonies are performed to avert the influence of the Evil Eye.
This seems to be a very ancient practice which has been Christianized;
for among the Druids, May Day was one of the two great festivals of the
The faith of the Acadians in the Blessed Virgin led them to believe that
the snow which fell during the month of May had miraculous power. So
they carefully collected it. and when it was melted they filtered and
bottled it for future use. This water they applied to sores, cuts,
bruises, sore throats, ears, etc. — in fact it was a heal-all. This May
snow-water was also used as a substitute for holy water, since after the
expulsion of the Acadians, the few who remained were without the
ministrations of a priest, and their own faith had to supply all that
was lacking on this account.
Throughout Nova Scotia generally, the snow or rain that falls on May Day
is piously considered a cure for sore eyes.
In Pomquet, Antigonish Co., the Acadians secured May water in a
different fashion. Before sunrise on May Day, they went to a brook with
a bucket, the mouth of which they had to place in the direction in which
the water was flowing. When the bucket was full, they carried it home,
sprinkled the feed of the cattle with the water, and bottled the
remainder for future use. The water thus collected kept fresh for years.
Hallowe'en.—The Druidical feast of Samh’in, the second great event of
their year, was coincident with Hallowe’en. On this day they kindled the
sacred fire and discharged judicial functions with which superstitious
usages for divining the future were intermingled. It is probably to
these usages that we owe the numerous practices so much enjoyed on this
day, such, for instance, as the eating of a salt cake before retiring,
in the hope that one’s future husband might appear, with a glass of
water, to the thirsty dreamer.
According to popular tradition, Hallowe’en was the only day in the year
on which Satan was unchained and allowed to roam about at will, as the
story that follows will show.
In Inverness Co. there were two old bachelors named MacD, who had a
queer old maid for housekeeper. She had had a reputation for stealing,
but before coming to them she had reformed. After some time, however,
the MacD’s, who were merchants, began to miss articles from their store;
then things from the home began to go. Blame was naturally placed on the
old woman. Rory, the elder of the brothers, dismissed her and forbade
her to put foot on his premises again. She was highly indignant, but her
wrath knew no bounds when the story began to follow her around the
country. One day, notwithstanding the prohibition, she appeared before
Rory and demanded a certificate of character. “You hadn’t any when you
came to us, so go and get it where you lost it,” he said. She brought
action against him for defamation of character, and succeeded in getting
two magistrates, who were glad to have a fling at Rory, to take up the
case. Rather than let the matter go into the courts, Rory paid two
hundred dollars, twenty of which the old woman received, and the rest
the magistrates divided between themselves.
Soon the two magistrates and the old woman went to the “reward” of their
ill-spent lives. The Hallowe’en after their death, Rory had retired to
rest, when he heard very fine dance music being played on a violin
outside. He got up, raised the blind and looked out. He could not
believe his eyes. High in an apple tree sat "the old boy" himself
playing the fiddle as hard as he could, and down on the green sward were
the two magistrates, the old woman and another female of like character,
dancing a four-hand reel. “Get off my premises,” shouted Rory. The next
instant there was nothing but the shadow of the trees on the moonlit
grass, nothing but the bare branches on the apple-tree.
After the taking of
Louisburg by the English, soldiers came upon a French missionary priest
near Fort Toulouse (now St. Peter’s) and began questioning him about the
movement of the French troops. As he refused to give them any
information, they cast him into a hut with a skunk and a porcupine.
Here, after untold torture from these animals, he gave up his life. From
that day to this no skunk nor porcupine is found on the island of Cape
Breton, although they are numerous on the peninsula of Nova Scotia,
scarcely a mile away.
Another more popular version of this legend makes the Indians, not the
English soldiers, the perpetrators of this crime.
This legend also accounts for the belief which grew up among the people,
that no man from Cape Breton could become a priest. In the early days
many tried; but in every case, sickness or some other serious reason
prevented them from finishing their seminary training. After many years,
as the old people would say, “the spell was broken,” and a young man
named Maclsaac, became Cape Breton’s first native priest. Since then,
there has been a steady stream of vocations to the sacred ministry from
A man was out fishing haddock and caught one between his fingers, but as
it was very slippery, it began to elude his grasp. When he felt he could
hold it no longer he said, “May the devil take you!” As it slipped away,
his finger slid along its back leaving, to his surprise, a black mark.
Since then, every haddock wears the devil’s mark on its back. Another
version of this story makes the devil the fisherman.
The haddock has two other black marks on either side of its gills, to
which the Acadians ascribe this origin. The haddock had the honor of
supplying our Lord with the coin of the tribute. The black marks are
those made by St. Peter’s fingers when he opened the fish’s mouth. Of
course the haddock, a salt water fish, is not to be found in the fresh
water Sea of Galilee. But a fish is found there which bears a mark, and
local tradition makes it St. Peter’s fish.