Saturday, October 1, 2016

Halloween During the Regency

October is upon us, the month of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night.

Since I write Regency, how did they celebrate Halloween in the Regency?

Than answer is: They didn’t.

On October 31, the Celts celebrated Samhain, a harvest festival which contained some elements of a festival of the dead. The Christian religion attempted to neutralize the pagan Samhain by combining it with Christian holy days. November 1 was All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day, so October 31 became All Hallows' Eve.

By the Regency, All Hallows' Eve was mainly a rural festival, rarely noticed in the cities. Elements of Samhain remained in the customs of guising, lighting bonfires, and carving vegetable lanterns.

On Samhain, the barriers between the real world and the supernatural world thinned, allowing the dead, as well as evil spirits, to walk the earth. People left their doors open to welcome the ghosts of their ancestors inside, while at the same time keeping out the evil ones. An associate custom was guising, in which people dressed as ghouls. By blending in with the demons, they avoided them.
Bonfires were also popular on All Hallows' Eve. The fires lit the way to the afterworld of relatives who had died during the past year. They also scared away the specters and goblins.

Carving vegetable lanterns was another custom. Believing the "head" of a vegetable its most potent part, the Celts carved vegetables into heads with faces to scare away supernatural beings. By Regency times, these lighted vegetables became associated with the seventeenth century Irish legend of Shifty or Stingy, Jack. Shifty Jack, so evil neither Heaven or Hell would have him, was doomed forever to wander the earth while carrying a lantern.
The lantern was usually carved from a turnip or mangelwurzel. Since these vegetables are hard and dense, not hollow like pumpkins, carving such a lantern was quite a feat. A traditional carved turnip is at the right.

At the time, "jack o lantern" meant a night-watchman or a will-o-the-wisp. "Jack o' lantern", meaning a vegetable lantern, is an Americanism that came into use around 1834.

In Ireland, bobbing for apples is called "snap apple".  Snap Apple Night became a synonym for Halloween in Ireland, Labrador and Newfoundland.

All customs evolve, but we can see the beginnings of many of today's Halloween practices in the Regency.

If you enjoy Regency and Halloween, you might like Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween romantic comedy and 2011 EPIC eBook Competition finalist,

Pumpkin thieves, a youthful love rekindled, and a jealous goose. Oh my!

And what's a pumpkinnapper? A pumpkinnapper is a pumpkin kidnapper, or pumpkin thief, fitting for my story of someone who wants to steal the heroine's pumpkins. She thinks the culprit is the hero, but he's not. And then there's her pet goose, who hates the hero. Lots of Halloween fun.

Blurb and excerpt here:

Available at:


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Happy Halloween!

Thank you all,
The top picture is Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, of a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland in 1832. From Wikipedia.

The second picture is a traditional Irish Jack-o'-Lantern in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. From Wikipedia.