Today is Crack-Nut Sunday, the last Sunday before Michaelmas (29 September). The name comes from an old English custom whereby the congregation took nuts with them to the parish church on this day and cracked them during the service.
It is said that the practice had its origin in the election of bailiffs and other members of the corporation on Michaelmas Day and the civic feast connected with this. Young and old members of the congregation participated and the cracking noise often drowned out the words of the priest.
In 1907 a newspaper in New York State published an account by an American visitor who had attended a country church in the north of England on Crack-Nut Sunday. He commented that the service ‘would have driven a New York preacher clean crazy’: ‘Nobody, no matter how pious he might be, hesitated to avail himself of the peculiar privilege granted him, and men, women and children came to church with their pockets stuffed with nuts, which they complacently cracked and munched during the sermon…It can be easily imagined that when forty or fifty people get to cracking nuts with all their might the noise is apt to be something terrific, and many times the minister was hard put to hear himself think’. The custom came to be looked upon as a nuisance but was suppressed with some difficulty ‘so firmly had the nut cracking fever taken hold of the fancy of the people’.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
John Timbs, Something for everyone (1861)
The Kingston Daily Freeman 4 March 1907