A Victorian Halloween

“Vintage Images courtesy of FreeVintageImages.com“.

The Halloween tradition dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) 2,000 years ago. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, a day that marked the harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter months. They believed that on the night before the new year, the worlds of the living and the dead came together, and on the night of October 31, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

The celebration of Halloween has withstood the test of time, conforming to the traditions and rituals of many eras, each adding their own unique touch to the spooky, scary,celebration. The Victorian age, teetering on the precept of ancient rituals and modern innovations, added a rich, imaginative flavor to the already frightful night.  

Harvest Festivals and Halloween were celebrated, especially in farming communities, giving families and friends a chance to celebrate their hard work and successes over the past months. Having survived a harsh and difficult growing season, communities gathered together to feast and share a bit of excitment in the telling of ghost stories.

Gothic tendencies ran deep during the Victorian era. The great novels such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” remain alive and well and open to recreation and interpretation even this many years later. Imagine the ambiance of sitting around a fire and telling ghost stories, the rustle of autumn leaves and twigs mixed with the occasional gust of chilling wind. Scary stuff compared to movies we watch on our televisions within the warmth and safety of our homes.

It is thought that trick or treating is an American tradition, but really, its roots tap into English tradition associated with All Souls’ Day and the parades that were held. The poor would beg for food and pastries during the parades. Folks would give them cakes referred to as “soul cakes” because in return for food, the people would ask the poor and needy to pray for the souls of relatives who had died. This practice became known as “going a-souling.” Eventually, it became a children’s tradition to go a-souling in the community for money, food or anything else the giver handed out to the poor.

This entry was posted in All Souls' Day, Halloween, harvest, trick or treat. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Victorian Halloween

  1. Vince says:

    Hi Audra:

    When I was in grade school the nuns used to call Halloween: “That pagan holiday”. The Church came up with “All Saints Day” on the 1st of November as an alternative but no one really cared. Then they tried to preempt “Halloween” by making it “All Souls Day”. The only problem was that the pagans always knew how to party better than the church.

    Enjoyed the history!

    BTW: I’ll be at LA’s “My Story My Way” site on Friday talking about cover art that attracts the attention of the best prospects. This is ideal for indie writers. Come join us!


  2. I wouldn’t miss your post on Leslie’s blog for anything, Vince! I’m looking forward to your words of wisdom on covers. When LA was on Seekerville, you had excellent comments on cover art–details I hadn’t thought of.

    I agree, it was pretty tough to dress up “That pagan holiday.” LOL! My kids used to get all upset because I wouldn’t let them be anything scary or “pagan” when they went trick or treating. By the end of the evening though, they didn’t care — bags of candy seemed to even out the playing field of costume cool-ness.