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Friday, October 27, 2023

All Hallow's Eve and Jack O'Lanterns

by Donna Hatch

Halloween is even more popular than ever. In the United States, more Americans celebrate Halloween than Christmas. I have my own opinion on that, but really, what's not to love about love costumes, decorations, parties, and special treats?

 Origin of Halloween -- All Hallow's Eve

An ancient Celticic festival Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced "SOW-en" or “SAH-win”) celebrated the end of summer's end, the harvest, and the new year, which, at the time, landed on November 1st. the Celts believed that during Samhain, the barrier between the living and the dead became thin enough that ghosts, monsters, and fairies walked the earth to steal souls. They also believed that ghosts of their ancestors could visit that night. The multi-day celebration included sacrifices, fires, dancing, drinking, and much revelry, as well as wearing disguises to hide from the souls wandering around. 

Eventually, with the rise of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church replaced Samhain with All Saints’ Day or All Soul's Day, which celebrates the church’s saints on November 1. The day before All Saints' Day became All Hallows’ Eve. Many Samhain traditions have endured until today.

Carved Jack O'Lanterns

Ancient Celts invented Jack O'Lanterns. But since pumpkins are native to North America, so the Celts hollowed out and carved rutabagas, gourds, potatoes, beets, and even turnips. To make their faces glow, they put a candle or lit ember inside. These lit root vegetables guided their doorways to ward off evil spirits. 

The Celts also left doors and windows open to welcome in the spirits of their ancestors and set out food for them because, of course, ghosts get hungry. And apparently, only wicked, non-family ghosts were frightened away by glowing veggie faces. To the right are a few examples of the faces that artistic carvers can make from turnips.

Origin of the Name Jack O'Lantern
Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Although historians aren't positive about how a lit, carved vegetable became known as Jack O'Lantern, there are two prevailing theories. 

From about the 17th century, the term referred to a night watchman who carried a lantern and patrolled the streets to curtail crime. The British often called men whose names they didn't know by a common name like Jack. So, a nightwatchman whose name was unknown carrying a lantern was referred to as Jack with the Lantern or Jack of the Lantern or Jack O'Lantern.

The name's origin may have arisen from a legend about Stingy Jack who played tricks on the devil. As punishment, he was doomed to wander the earth as a spirit carrying a lit coal which he later put into a carved-out turnip. The story about Stingy Jack became a part of All Hallow's Eve and is often referenced when spooky, unexplained lights are sighted, sometimes called Spook Lights. 

Modern Jack O' Lanterns

Jack O'Lanterns today range from scary, to funny, to elegant to reflect the taste of the creator. So this Halloween spare a thought to your ancestors who have passed on. Who knows? They just might visit you.

All Hallows Eve during Regency England, filled with ancient English customs, sets the scene for my newest short novel, A Ghost of a Chance.

A lost soul searching for hope...

After a devastating loss, a young lady throws herself into searching for her missing brother and taking solace in her musical composition. When a handsome and captivating stranger comes to town one All Hallows Eve, she dares to hope for more than her endlessly lonely existence.

A tormented war hero seeking redemption...

Unable to flee the memories of war, a retired cavalry captain spends his days helping the men who served under his command adjust to civilian life. Perhaps if he helps them all, he can atone for some of his past failures. When he stops for the night at a small English village celebrating All Hallows Eve, he meets an enchanting young lady unlike any other and suspects that what he needed all along was not only redemption but love.

They must find the courage to take a leap of faith and choose love over fear

It will take faith and valor to overcome the barriers between their worlds and let go of their past heartaches. As they discover love and happiness neither had imagined, they will have to delve into the shadow world between life and death to beg for another chance from the Angel of Death.

A Ghost of a Chance is available in ebook, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback.  


Friday, October 6, 2023

Regency Ladies Fashion: pantaloons -- did they or didn't they?


I recently taught a workshop at a writer's conference on Regency Ladies Fashions. One attendee asked what ladies wore underneath their skirts. You should have heard the gasps when I told her, "Nothing." 

Now is a good time to revise and cross-post about this somewhat controversial topic.

Historians, researchers, and authors agree that ladies wore a shift, or chemise, over which they laced up stays (a type of Regency corset but more comfortable), and then a petticoat, which was basically a long slip or jumper. We also know they wore stockings that tied or buckled. Our modern-day sensibilities insist that the ladies who lived during the time of Jane Austen's heroines must have worn something underneath all that, right?

Read on, dear reader.


We know drawers existed by 1806 because merchants advertised and sold them. However, these merchants did not cater to the upper classes; their clientele was the working class.  Some advertisements tried to bring them into fashion for the wealthy by listing them as being good for wearing while riding. However, they didn't understand the first rule of advertising: know your audience.

In 1811, Princess Charlotte wore them at least once, because she accidentally revealed them. However, many considered the garment shocking and openly criticized her for not only letting it show but wearing it at all.

Drawers and similar undergarments were a direct imitation of men's undergarments called "small clothes." As such, they were considered masculine and therefore vulgar for ladies. In addition, drawers had two entirely separate legs with strings that tied around the waist and left open in the middle. For decades, the only women who wore them were prostitutes.  Ladies of high society wanted nothing to do with this kind of garment.

In 1817, some fashionable ladies wore pantaloons, a longer, lace-edged variation of drawers that were meant to be seen below the petticoat. In English Women's Clothing in the 19th Century, by C Willet Cunnington, the author describes drawers as "frilled trousers" but goes on to state that the fashion disappeared almost immediately, adding, "On the whole however, it seems probable that most women did not wear any garment of this kind until the '30's" (meaning the 1830's).

Before you continue, I must warn you: the colored drawings below are a tad graphic, so please don't send me hate mail.

Risqué Regency Era Cartoons

The lack of any garment underneath ladies' skirts was such common knowledge that even social and political cartoons of the day reflected this. Thomas Rowlandson, a famous illustrator and cartoonist, created watercolors of soldiers, wars, death and dying, the hunt, several humorous series, as well as some rather erotic pieces. I  have not included those in this post. You're welcome.

One of Rowlandson's pieces is called Exhibition Stare Case (pictured to the left). In this image, several people are tumbling down the stairs. Three of them are misfortunate ladies, positioned with their legs up, revealing naked thighs and bums. This suggests ladies did not wear drawers or pantaloons.

Other satirical cartoons by different cartoonists including Cruikshank and Gilray show pictures of women falling off horses or, in the case of the picture to the right, warming themselves in front of a fire. In all these drawings, women are wearing nothing underneath their skirts except stockings and shoes. (Don't you love the fat cat lying in front of her as if it has just expired?)

Obviously, back then, as today, political cartoons are only loosely based on fact. They're supposed to be absurd. However, so many of them reveal (no pun intended) the lack of ladies' undergarments that the combination begins to present a strong case against the practice, at least among the wealthier classes.

Another period drawing that addresses this is called "Progress of the Toilet." It's a set of three images published by James Gillray in 1810. His drawings are well-known to ridicule many practices of the Regency Era. Several of his creations mock the fashions of the period which dictated how the shapes of women should be altered to meet current standards of beauty.

The image to the left shows a woman wearing drawers. It is difficult to see, but she's wearing a chemise -- you can see the sleeves and the edge around the top of her stays -- which seems to be tucked into her drawers. The stays appear to be from earlier in the century when ladies wore Georgian stays, as evidenced by the little tabs on the bottom of the stays. But I digress. It's also possible the cartoonist showed drawers to further ridicule the complicated process of dressing for the day and even perhaps to poke fun at the drawers themselves. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine the exact date of the image. One source said this series was created in 1810 but I have not been able to verify that. I find it more likely that it was around 1817 during that blip when drawers were popular.


In the 1820s, which was the Victorian Era, long pantaloons (also called pantaletes) arrived on the scene with more popularity. The term can be confusing because men wore pantaloons -- silk breeches that went to the knee -- for formal occasions until well into the 1820s until trousers became mainstream fashion.

None of my books of Regency fashion prints show drawers or anything of the kind peeping out from underneath skirts -- not even those labeled "walking dress," "carriage dress," or "riding habit."


While some historians stubbornly claim that women wore drawers, there is too much proof to the contrary.  I suspect that just as today some men and women don't always wear underwear, there were those ladies during the Regency while most did not. Our modern-day sensibilities might make the idea of not wearing underwear sound a tad obscene. Just remember, they had far different viewpoints about a great many things during the Regency.


English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willet Cunningham

Fashions in the Era of Jane Austen by Jody Gayles

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Bathing in the Middle Ages by Jenna Jaxon

Last month I took a look at bathing and bathtubs in the Regency period. This month I’m going backward in time to examine bathing during the Middle Ages.

The first thing to affirm is that yes, people did bathe during the Medieval period, using several different methods.

A lot depended on your status in life as to how often you took a bath. The lowest classes who did manual labor likely bathed the least. They would probably not have had the means or money to fetch buckets of water, heat the water, and purchase a tub and then bathe in it. Such laborers and the poorer people would have availed themselves of a dip in a pond, lake, or stream during the warmer months. Otherwise, they may have taken wash pan baths, washing as best they could during the colder months.

Middle class people may have had enough money to own a tub and employ a servant to fetch and heat the water. They might also have had the fees to go to public bath houses (a holdover from Roman times). These houses were very popular but had a reputation for lewdness. The sexes weren’t always separated, and prostitutes were known to frequent them.

The nobility would have had a tub for the household to use (perhaps more than one, depending on the

size of the family). Tubs were a status symbol for the wealthy. They would be lined with linen fabric to protect tender skin from splinters if the tub was wooden, or to protect it from seams if the tub was made of metal.

Royal households would certainly have availed themselves of the bath. Documents show that Charlemagne loved taking baths and not just alone. He’d invite relatives, guests, and sometimes servants and attendants to bathe with him. King John of England took a bathtub with him when he traveled.

One additional note of interest: men usually bathed naked while women wore a shift or chemise, whether for warmth or modesty is difficult to tell.

So bathing, in all its various forms, was definitely a large part of life during the Middle Ages.



Chase, Loretta. “Queen Caroline Takes a Bath.” Two Nerdy History Girls, July 11, 2011.

“Did People in the Middle Ages Take Baths?”, April 2013.

Peardon, Keri. “Bathing in the Middle Ages.” Vampires, Ladies, and Potpourri, June 14, 2012.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Bathtubs in Regency England by Jenna Jaxon


At the end of the 18th century, attitudes toward bathing began to change. Beau Brummel, a Regency fashion plate, was an advocate of bathing often and he was a major Regency “influencer.” About that same time, in 1791, John Wesley gave a sermon “On Dress” in which he made the acclamation, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” People took these and other ideas on cleanliness into consideration, making the Regency period of transitioning into good bathing habits.

Basin and Ewer

Actual bathtubs seem to have been rare and in the lower classes--all but non-existent. Instead, they used a basin and  a ball of soap to clean themselves, rather than an immersion, although in summer lakes and ponds served as natural bathtubs. For the middle classes, the basin and ewer were also standard equipment, although the wealthier families who could afford a bathtub would likely have one of metal or wood.

The aristocracy would have certainly had bathtubs,

Shower-Bath at Scarborough

again of copper or wood, that could be set up in a chamber (often a bed chamber), filled by servants who would lug water from a well outside, into the kitchen to be heated, then lugged upstairs and poured into the bathtub. Little wonder none but the wealthiest could afford such a luxury. The tub was usually lined with linen fabric, to keep the bather from getting splinters from a wooden tub or keep from sticking to the surface of a metal tub. Water was often left near the fireplace to warm the water when it cooled or for rinsing off at the end of the bath.

Regency metal bathtub

Some members of the Regency upper classes actually possessed showers. The contraption was first noted around 1810, “around 12 feet high…a fancy bathing apparatus…[a] pump lifted water from tank

Regency Shower

at bottom through pipe to top tank, water could be used over and over again,” according to Life Magazine.

So during the Regency, people were beginning to take the business of cleanliness much more seriously and began to change their bathing habits accordingly.



Bourne, Joanna. “Keeping It Clean—Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs.” WordWenches Blog, August 3, 2011.

Chase, Loretta. “Taking a Shower in the 1800s.” Two Nerdy History Girls Blog, June 22, 2015.

Lahildin. “Staying Clean in Regency England.” October 17, 2014.

Life Magazine.

Vic. “A 19th Century Regency Era Shower.” Jane Austen’s World, November 11, 2010.


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Joust in Time by Jenna Jaxon

Knights on horseback racing full tilt toward each other with lances fixed may be the most iconic image most of us have of the Medieval period, and for good reason.  Jousting was one of the most popular and dramatic entertainments people of all classes could enjoy at a time when life was uncertain.

Jousts were usually part of a tournament, held by royalty usually during the summer months of the year.  They were major events where knights were pitted against each other for honor, for glory, and for prize money.  They may had had their roots in Roman games at the Coliseum.

On the opening day of a tournament, which may have lasted from 3 to 5 days, there was a formal procession out to the lists (the barriers that defined the field of combat).  This procession could be quite elaborate.  In my medieval romance Time Enough to Love, the knights and their ladies are dressed in costumes as members of King Arthur’s Round Table and it was a great honor to be chosen to ride. I modeled this procession after an actual procession in which 25 ladies on horseback rode beside their knights who walked to the lists (at least a couple of miles) in full armor while tethered to the ladies by silver chains.  King Edward III, at whose court the major action of the first half of the book takes place, had in fact given a grand tournament in 1344, which gave me the idea for one in my book.

Once on the field, the spectators were seated in a grandstand called a berfrois, built a story above the lists. Knights were assigned to brightly colored tents called pavilions, where they rested, waited, and donned their armor, with assistance from their squire, in preparation for the joust.  As a side note, the armor typically worn weighed about 60 pounds, but was so well-articulated that the combatants had much more mobility than we would believe.

The horses used by knights were a special breed, called destriers, who could manage the great weight of knight and armor and still maneuver on the field.  The horses were draped with a cloth called a comparison that covered them from nose to tail, designed in the knight’s colors and emblazoned with his heraldic design.

Of course, as with any contact sport, the potential for injury and death in jousting was great. The most famous death occurred when King Henry II of France was killed when a lance broke on his helmet and a wooden splinter pierced his eye and brain.  Oddly enough, the almost exact same thing happened in January 2011 when a jousting re-enactor was killed when a lance splintered on his helmet and a large piece of it pierced his eye and brain. 

With such a rich heritage of jousting, is it any wonder that I incorporated a joust and as many details of it as possible into Time Enough to Love?  You’ll find the procession—which becomes a serious conflict in the first part of the book—the joust itself, and a stunning injury that threatens the happiness of the hero and heroine.

If you love the color and pageantry of the Middle Ages, you’ll love Time Enough to Love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Hard Day's Knight by Jenna Jaxon


My medieval novel, Time Enough to Love, is the story of knights in the service of King Edward III of England.  Knights are perhaps the iconic image most readers have of the period. The men didn’t, however, spring fully ready at birth for this way of life.  There were years of training and hard work that went into becoming a knight.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, old Roman families became rulers of their own land holds, usually a castle and a certain amount of land. These lords depended on the strength of their retainers, arms-bearing men who swore fealty them and lived within their households.  This is the beginning of the knightly social class who became defined as warriors on horseback.

In return for their service, the lord would usually give the knight a small parcel of land or fief, with authority over the peasants who worked the land. This authority led to the knight’s elevation into the ranks of the nobility.

Training to be a knight began actually at birth.  Male children who were not destined for Holy Orders, began learning at his parents’ home what is expected of a knight, good manners, and the code of chivalry. Most knights came from noble families as the training and equipping of a knight was expensive, but any free man could become a knight. At age seven, the young boy would be taken to a different castle and serve the liege lord as first a page and then by about age fourteen a squire.

Pages were considered boys while squires were young men who had arrived at puberty. Growing up in the service of the lord, these young men learned everything about becoming a knight from religion to manners to practical experience. At age fourteen they rose in rank to squire and tended to the knight directly.   They gained experience hawking and hunting by both watching and practicing these skills.  They were also taught to use knightly weapons such as the sword and the lance.

Usually at age twenty-one, although sometimes earlier, the squire, after learning how to comport

himself in both combat and chivalry, underwent the ceremony of Knighthood, and was knighted by having a sword tapped on either shoulder, and bidden, “Arise, Sir Knight.”

Knights as the warrior class adopted a set of idealized behaviors known as chivalry to be followed both on and off the battlefield.  These behaviors included being a ferocious fighter, a devout Christian concerned with the well-being of the weak and helpless, a charmer who loved to dance and flirt with ladies, and a man who would allow no stain on his honor.

Although there was no standard of chivalry to which the knight was held, there did arise, in literature, a standard of sorts where the treatment of noble women were concerned.  A knight was expected to honor and serve his lady, whoever he might choose her to be.  She could be the lady of the castle where he received his training or a lady who he esteemed from afar but never met or a lady he was destined to marry.  Whatever their relationship, the knight was bound to do whatever the lady bid him do. Many stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, especially those with Lancelot as the central figure, illustrate this idea of devotion to the lady.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Origins of St. Patrick’s Day by Jenna Jaxon

I seem to be writing about holidays all this year so far, but I love everything Irish, so I can’t resist talking about St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick was a citizen of Roman Britain, born  on March 17, 387, who was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at about the age of 14-15 as a slave to work as a shepherd. After several years in captivity, Patrick escaped and fled back to Britain and was reunited with his family. He became a Christian and entered the priesthood. He was ordained a bishop and sent back to Ireland to preach the Gospel in a land of Druids and pagans. In this he was very successful, converting thousands in Ireland and establishing churches across the land. He wrote an autobiography called The Confessions in which he wrote of his life and his love for God. His only other writing is a Letter to Coroticus, a “denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.”

Patrick was a humble, gentle man who preached and ministered to the Irish for forty years, at last dying in Saul on March 17, 461. He is buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick where, in 1990, a grave marker was erected for him.

After his death, legends of Patrick’s miracles arose. First of these was that he drove all the snakes out of

Ireland and into the sea. Another is that he converted many people by explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons in one God) using the three leaves of the shamrock (three lobes on one stalk). He also claimed to have raised men from the dead (33 to be exact).

Beginning around the 7th century, Catholics in Ireland began venerating St. Patrick, although he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. In the 1630 the Feast of St. Patrick was added to the Catholic breviary or book of prayers. And by the end of the 17th century, Irish Catholics were celebrating the Feast of St. Patrick on March 17 by wearing crosses, ribbons, or shamrocks to honor him and his teachings of Christianity.

A small celebration of the day was first held in Boston, Massachusette in 1737. The first major celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, however, occurred in America, in New York in 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British Army marched in a parade on March 17, playing instruments and wearing their regimental colors proudly.

The color of St. Patrick, now traditionally green, was originally blue. It changed because the color blue became associated with English rule over Ireland and the color green became associated with rebellion, one symbol of which was the shamrock.

Today’s celebrations include huge parades in New York, Chicago, and Savannah. Chicago goes so far as

to dye their river green for the day. 

Traditionally, in Ireland, Irish bacon, cabbage, and potatoes are served. When thousands of Irish came to America in the 1850, they found the bacon in America to be very different from their native bacon. But they found the corned beef sold in delicatessens to be a cheap and delicious substitute, so today the meal for St. Patrick’s Day is Corned Beef and Cabbage with potatoes. I serve it (or at least eat it) every St. Patrick’s Day!

May the luck of the Irish be with you this March 17!



Catholic Online. “St. Patrick.” N.d. “History of St. Patrick’s Day.” March 16, 2021.

History Extra. “A brief history of St. Patrick’s Day.”

O’Raifeartaigh, Tarlach. “St. Patrick: bishop and patron saint of Ireland.” Brittanica. N.d.