Halloween in Regency England
I’m back from my travels, but still jet-lagged, so I’m reprising an old post from a few years ago.
Regency stories abound with tales of masked balls and costumed Vauxhall romps. But I’ve never read any that included trick-or-treating, or apple-bobbing, or ghostly observances on October 31st.
I ask myself, why?
Though some very fine writers incorporate religion into Regency stories (Laura Kinsale comes to mind), most Regency tales are secular. And Halloween during the Regency had a religious significance–it marked the eve of the feast of All Saints, a holiday observed by Roman and Anglican Catholics.
But Halloween also had religious significance as a pagan holiday, Samhain (pronounced sow-in). In fact, Mandy Barrow, at the British Life & Culture website, says early residents of the British Isles marked November 1st as the beginning of their new year. Thus, Samhain was their New Year’s Eve celebration.
Did the Regency elites leave the pagan bonfire celebrations of Samhain to the raucous Scots and other reveling Celts?
Ms. Barrow says that, in England, until the nineteenth century “there is no evidence that 31 October was anything else other than the eve of All Saints Day.” However, “from the 19th Century to the present day, 31st October has increasingly acquired a reputation as a night on which ghosts, witches, and fairies, are especially active.”
Guy Fawkes Night
In the seventeenth century, any pagan bonfires being lit were moved to November 5th in observance of Guy Fawkes Night, still celebrated today. This change had more religious connotations—Reformers transferred bonfires from a pagan feast day to a day celebrating the defeat of a Roman Catholic plot against the Crown.
Our soon to be candy-addled children must thank the Victorians, who, in spite of their stuffiness, understood the fun of a paranormal night. In Halloween: A History, author Lesley Bannatyne says historians have documented Victorian Trick-or-Treating in Scotland and Wales.
And switching to a description of Halloween in America, she says something that piques the imagination of a romance author:
Halloween games had been geared towards finding out who would marry who since at least the 1700s, perhaps before. Magazine fiction published after the Civil War used the day’s fortunetelling customs to stir characters together. Halloween was the backdrop for passion unleashed in the dark, for a titillating brush of hands, cheeks, lips. Heroines, anxious to try the “ancient” divinations of the night, ate apples at midnight in front of a mirror, desperately searching for the face of a future husband.
Might there have been Regency ladies on the other side of the pond engaging in Halloween games like this? If you have anything to share about the celebration of Halloween in the Regency period, I would love to hear it!
The Ghost of Depford Hall
For my own take on the celebration of Halloween during the Regency, read my sweet Regency Halloween story, The Ghost of Depford Hall. It will be available for free at Amazon.com through midnight October 31st.
Here’s the blurb:
It’s her mother’s last All Hallows’ Eve.
When family, friends, and tenants gather, goblins, ghouls, and ghosts are banned from this All Hallows’ Eve party.
Only, no one told the Ghost of Depford Hall!
This sweet Regency short story is a sequel to Liliana’s Letter.
And I wish you all a Halloween filled with wonderful characters!
Images: Pumpkin, Depositphotos.com; Vauxhall and Guy Fawkes, Wikimedia Commons; Cover, the author with image from Depositphotos.com