Search This Blog

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Halloween Celebrations in Regency England

I am unfortunately a day late with this post, but as I am such a fan of October, I just couldn't let the opportunity pass to post on my favorite holiday. Hope you enjoy!

As October is the month of Halloween (at least I celebrate all month long), I thought I’d take a look at some traditions people might have observed in the Regency during this (currently) very popular holiday.

Ever heard of bobbing for apples on Halloween? What about tossing an apple peeling or roasting hazelnuts to find your future marriage partner? Staring into a mirror to reveal your spouse? How about carving jack ‘o lanterns?

All of these familiar (and not so familiar) activities were practiced during the Regency, although many were carried out in rural areas rather
than the parlors of London townhouses or country manor houses. Regency Society tended to ignore most of these celebrations.

The holiday itself was more religious in nature during this period, being the day before All Saint’s Day, a day of recognition for those who had died. A total of three days (October 31, November 1, and November 2) comprised the holiday: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. This was called Allhallowtide.

But the celebrations originated in Celtic rituals on Saimhain (sow-ain) night, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. According to the ancient Celts, this day, All Hallows Eve, was a time when the barriers between our world and the “Otherworld” became thinner, and spirits could pass through to walk in our world.

Then where do the celebrations in the Regency come in? One of the traditions passed down from ancient times was the idea that on one day out of the year, spirits of one’s own family walked the earth and visited them seeking hospitality. Therefore, it became a custom to have celebrations with food, drink, and games that usually revolved around foretelling the future. One such game was bobbing for apples.

So at some parties in rural areas, single women might peel an apple, being careful not to break the peeling. Then she would toss the peel over her shoulder and it was supposed to land in the shape of a letter—the first letter of her future husband’s name. Another way to foretell your future husband was to put two hazelnuts in a fire side by side and name one for you and the other for the person you desired. If the nuts jumped apart as they heated, you were not meant to be with this person; however, if the two nuts roasted amicably together, then you would end up together. Unmarried women would go into a darkened room on All Hallows’ Eve and stare into a
mirror. If the face of a man appeared beside her, he was the man she would marry. If a skull appeared instead, then she would die before marrying.

Carving jack o’ lanterns was also popular in the Regency, though it too originated with Celtic celebrations. A turnip was the vegetable usually carved into a scary face in Ireland and Scotland, meant to frighten away spirits. The name comes from a 17th century Irish legend, Shifty or Stingy Jack who was so evil neither Hell nor Heaven would let him in. Therefore, he was doomed to wander the earth carrying a lantern.
So although the Regency didn’t have a huge celebration for Halloween, they did manage to enjoy this harvest festival in some very interesting ways.

My own Halloween story, Hearts at All Hallows’ Eve, is a sweet Regency that takes place at a masquerade ball on October 31, which would not have been typical, but could have been part of a round of Little Season entertainments. And it does take into consideration the widely held belief of spirits roaming the earth on this particular night. Why not check out this short story and get into the swing of the season early?

No comments: