Historical Halloween traditions
Halloween dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-In). It marked when the dead would be closest to the mortal world, and evil spirits would roam the night. Nowadays, it’s a fun holiday known for its candy, apple bobbing and spooky costumes.
In this blog, we’ll discuss Halloween traditions from the Tudors to the Victorians to modern-day activities I like to do with my own family. Keep reading to learn about historical Halloween!
1. The Tudors:
In Tudor times Halloween would have been known as All Hallows Eve. It marked the night before All Saints day.
The Tudors were very religious. They believed that the 31st of October marked when the souls of the dead and evil spirits could pass through to earth. As a result, church bells would be rung, and people would wear spooky masks to scare these spirits away.
Children and those who were less wealthy would also go ‘souling’. This has similarities to modern trick-or-treating, with people going door to door begging for spiced cakes. These were known as ‘soul cakes’ because the recipient would pray for the household’s dead in return.
Check out this diary entry from Matilda Your Tudor Girl to learn more about Tudor Halloween traditions.
Despite having a strict social code of conduct, Victorians loved to celebrate Halloween.
In fact, Queen Victoria herself was known for throwing large parties at Balmoral castle with games, spooky performances and a bonfire.
Halloween was traditionally associated with fortune-telling. The Victorians would use parlour games to tell the future for the coming year.
One game they would play was called ‘Three Luggies’ and was inspired by ‘Halloween’, the poem by Robert Burns. It was used to predict the future marriage prospects of young Victorians.
The participants would line up three bowls, one with clear water, one with dirty water and one empty. The person seeking their future would be blindfolded and told to pick a bowl. The clear water would mean their future partner would be unattached, the dirty water would be a widow, and the empty one would mean they wouldn’t marry.
Victorian’s loved parlour games, and Halloween was just another excuse to throw a party and include a spooky element.
3. Modern day traditions:
With our American roots, celebrating Halloween has always been important for my family. Every year, we carve a pumpkin to put outside our home.
The history of Jack O Lanterns (carved pumpkins with a candle inside) includes the Irish folktale of ‘Stingy Jack’. The story goes that Jack had a meal with the devil. However, he refused to pay, so the devil had to turn himself into a coin. Jack managed to trap him in that form until the devil agreed to leave him alone for a year and not take him to hell if he passed away. When Jack died, he wasn’t allowed into heaven because of his tricks, but the devil also kept his word. He was sent to haunt earth as a ghost without passage into any afterlife, carrying only a candle in a carved turnip to light his way. This is where the name ‘Jack O Lantern’ originated from.
Today many people carve pumpkins as a signal to trick-or-treaters to visit their house for treats, or as a fun Halloween activity.
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