The Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow
Ah but this is a deceptive title for this week’s post.
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?
Perhaps the Lords and Ladies who populate the stories would have observed the day as a religious occasion. I’ve seen some very fine writers incorporate religion into Regency stories (Laura Kinsale comes to mind), but generally the 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 and condemned by the Reformers.
Halloween also had religious significance as a pagan holiday, and that attribution surely would have brought condemnation from both High and Low Church believers during that era. Mandy Barrow, at the British Life & Culture website says early residents of the British Isles began the New Year on November 1st, and their New Year’s Eve observance was Samhain (pronounced sow-in, who knew?).
I suppose during the Regency period, the pagan celebration would be left to the raucous Scots and other reveling Gaels. And the lower classes.
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.” Imagine handsome Duke Hero-of-the-Story hosting a Halloween bonfire at which he pursues a romance with Lady Heroine?
Of course, the bonfires which would have been lit to observe Samhain had already been moved in the seventeenth century to November 5th, in observance of Guy Fawkes Night, still celebrated today. This change had even more religious connotations—reformers transferred the bonfires from a pagan feast day to a day that celebrated the defeat of a plot perpetrated against the Crown by the Roman Catholic minority.
Our soon to be candy-addled children must thank the Victorians, who, for all their vaunted propriety and sexual repression understood the fun of a paranormal night. In Halloween: A History, author Lesley Bannatyne says that during the Victorian period, Trick-or-Treating activities were documented 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?
So what do you think? Did the uppercrust observe Halloween during the Regency period? I know from a quick perusal of Amazon that there are some Halloween Regency romances out there. Have you read one? Are they fun anachronisms (like my images from the TV show Sleepy Hollow) or historically accurate? If you have anything to share about the celebration of Halloween in the Regency period, I would love to hear it!
And I wish you all a Halloween filled with wonderful characters!
The cast of Fox’s New Show, Sleepy Hollow