Why We Love a Victorian Halloween
The otherwise tight-laced Victorian's , believe it or not, cut loose a bit on Halloween. Even Queen Victoria herself made a big deal of the holiday. It wasn't the Halloween you know and love, but it was great fun, and in classic Victorian style, carried out in opulent fashion.
Victorian Halloween Was All About Parties
As you'd expect, Halloween was an elaborate social event. Invitations arrived in the form of carved pumpkins or turnips with handwritten notes often in verse. Victorian ladies and gentlemen added bat wings, pointed hats, cat ears, or devil's pitchforks to their regular attire. Others repurposed their clothing as story characters like Mother Goose or Little Bo Peep. Harlequins and clowns were also popular choices.
The party itself was lit mostly by firelight coming from candles in jack-o-lanterns and bonfires. Games connected with Halloween's Celtic harvest festival roots were about pleasing the spirits, foretelling the future, finding love, and enjoying the fruit of the harvest.
Queen Victoria's Halloween parties were well documented by the Staffordshire Sentinel in 1847. It reported that she drove out in her phaeton with a torch and formed a procession. They made their way through the Balmoral estate in Scotland then congregated in front of the castle and lit a bonfire.
At some point in the evening, a costumed figure arrived flanked by fairies and goblins. They brought an effigy of a witch, which they tossed into the fire after a short trial. Then the music and dancing began and could last long into the night.
All in all, Victorian Halloween parties were an opportunity for Victorians to revel in games that were not tolerated at any other time—though still mostly true to standards of propriety.
Victorians Loved Fortune Telling At Halloween
Many of the traditions and especially the party games centered around fortune telling. Victorian women attempted to divine their future husbands in all sorts of ways: pouring melted lead into cold water to figure out her future husband's profession from the shapes made, dipping her hands into various bowls of water blindfolded to determine whether she will marry a bachelor, widower, or remain single, roasting nuts over the fire to find out whether a couple is compatible.
The magic mirror game was one of the most popular, and creepy. Ladies peered into mirrors with a single candle while eating an apple. If the spirits were favorable, the lady might see her future husband in the mirror standing behind her.
Gentlemen's fortune telling games tended to be more exuberant like bobbing for apples: get an apple and you're sure to get a wife. They also enjoyed the apple and candle game where the gentlemen chased an apple and were chased by a lit candle: predicting their luck at finding love (with or without injury).
Victorian Halloween Foods Were Connected to Ancient Tradition
The roots of Halloween come from an ancient Celtic end of harvest/end of year observance. It was considered the last day of the harvest and the beginning of winter, a dark, depressing time filled with death.
Samhain, aka Halloween, was the time when Celts believed the spirits crossed from another world into theirs and they sought to please them lest the winter and the next growing season would be bleak.
In the abundance of the harvest, there was plenty of food given and consumed, especially fall-time harvests like nuts and apples. Nuts, raisins, and apples were at the center of the Victorian celebrations. The closest thing they had to candy or sweets was the Halloween cake.
The Halloween cake was only for (you guessed it) unmarried guests and was used to predict fortunes. The cake was baked with a ring, a coin, and a button inside it. Whoever found the ring would be the first to marry. Whoever found the coin would receive wealth. Whoever found the button was cursed to remain single. Occasionally, Victorians placed objects in the cake that were a bit more sinister, like needles?!
We at American Tin Ceiling love all things Victorian! Stay tuned for more on Victorian traditions, designs, and how their style influences ours today. Subscribe to our newsletter.