Helen Creighton collected so many superstitions, beliefs and folk remedies that she published a book, Bluenose Magic. Nowadays, we may have different beliefs and rely on science for our medicine but you may recognize some of these superstitions and beliefs as part of our society or family traditions. Traditions can come and go much like the superstitions and beliefs featured on this page so check back regularly for new ones.

The Oxen on Christmas Eve

There are many mentions of Oxen and Christmas Eve in Helen’s book, Bluenose Magic.On Christmas Eve, it is believed by many cultures that animals, including Oxen, have the power of speech. 

Beware!… if you should try to sneak into someone’s barn to have a listen, your eavesdropping could result in bad luck and even death!

Helen wasn’t the only one to collect this belief. In Folklore of Nova Scotia by Mary Fraser, she writes about a schoolmaster in Cape Breton who assumed the animals would speak in Latin and so decided to listen in one Christmas Eve. This is what he heard: the cock sang in a soprano voice: Christus natus est!” The ox replied “ubi?” And the ass in his basso profundity voice “Bethlehem!”

There is more information on this tradition in Clary Croft’s book, Celebrate. Here is a recording of Clary’s composition, Song of the Oxen.

The Christmas Crossing: an illuminating story

Colin Francis McKinnon lived to be 97 years old. Many people in the old days  had to walk four miles to get to midnight mass at the church.

One dark and blustery Christmas night, he and his wife, Angus Rory McDonald and another McDonald couple, left at 10:30pm to walk to mass. They took the route along the railway tracks as it was clear of snow but when they approached the trestle bridge just passed the station, it started snowing and the wind picked up. The way was difficult to see and they were afraid to go across the bridge. They knew that a train wasn’t expected for hours but the trestle was one thousand feet long and dangerous to cross if you couldn’t see your way. No one thought to bring a light.

They stood around for ten minutes trying to decide whether to continue or turn back when suddenly a bright light appeared and shone for a hundred feet over the bridge.The light looked like a great big star shining the way across. They thought it was a good sign and so crossed over and went to mass. 

For many years,Mrs. McKinnon told this story of the bridge and the bright star every Christmas night.

From Bluenose Magic by Helen Creighton, Gaelic/Scottish in origin. Story told to Helen Creighton by Colin Francis McFarlane. The story involves the friends and family of Colin Francis McKinnon, first cousin to Bishop McKinnon, and godfather to Mr McFarlane.Retold here by C. Campbell-Stone

A Sampling of Superstitions

  • Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.
  • For cramps in the legs, when you go to bed at night turn your shoes upside down with the heels up.
  • When a cat is washing her face and her paw goes over her ear, company is coming from the direction in which her tail is pointing.
  • Wish on a white horse, saying:
Lucky, lucky white horse, 
Lucky, lucky lee,
Lucky, lucky white horse,
Bring a wish to me.
A superstition is a belief or practice often based in the supernatural.