Interesting Halloween Traditions from the Victorian Era

The world turned upside down — in a good way — for one black velvet night.

Karen Fortunati

Oh the Victorian era. A time of fascinating words (gigglemugs), bizarre interests, and toxic fashion (think toxic dyes). It also makes Halloween that much more interesting and spooky when looking back. Some Victorian Halloween traditions are quite tame while others make you say “why, just WHY?”. One thing I know for sure, all of it’s entertaining. The Victorians weren’t super creepy, they just took the spooky season as a reason to ramp up their already eccentric behaviors.

Enjoy the first of my Halloween-inspired posts this year as we travel not to a destination but back in time. Don’t forget to check out previous years’ posts for all of the spooktacular travel inspiration. Below are just a few of the traditions Victorians practiced around Halloween.

Nix the Pumpkins. It’s Time for a …Wedding?

Instead of dreaming about ghouls, hauntings, and pumpkins galore, the Victorians got starry eyed and made wedding predictions. There were several ways, some odd and morbid, they would go about this but my favorite is below.

Cakes were baked with a thimble, needle, a ring, or a dime. Get the former in your cake and you’d be a spinster, maybe also with a broken tooth or bleeding mouth if you were unlucky. Get a dime or a ring and you’d have good fortune or wedding bells in your future.

Turn Up for a Turnip Carving

Photo from the English Heritage Blog

Don’t worry, pumpkins were absolutely a carving tradition in the Victorian era, but they weren’t the only gourd they carved. Turnips were a popular vegetable used to celebrate the holiday. They could even be made into turnip lanterns! Imagine walking around and seeing giant pumpkin jack-o-lanterns and their tiny turnip counterparts. I’m sold.

If you’ve never looked up how creepy a turnip can be when it’s given a carved face… you’re welcome for this section’s creepy photo. You might have nightmares, but that’s all part of Halloween. Sorry, not sorry. Carving turnips was actually the tradition before it was discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve. So, if you really want to stick to tradition, ditch the pumpkin patch and find a turnip field.

The Original Halloween Party Decorators

If you were invited to a Halloween party you’d enter the home in near-complete darkness. The only light would come from lanterns, fireplaces, carved pumpkins, and (you guessed it) turnips. Fake snakes made of tin were placed near heat sources which made them look like they were slithering around.

Guests and hosts frequently dressed in black cloaks, because creep factor, duh. If your host had a sense of humor they would shake your hand with a fake hand they’d made with a glove and sawdust.

The Queen Knew How to Party

Queen Victoria took Halloween festivities to a completely new level. One of the more infamous Halloween parties happened at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Here the queen led a procession of torch bearers with a witch effigy carried by a servant dressed as a hobgoblin all the way to a bonfire where the witch effigy was thrown in.

Other years, the crowds became too rowdy and she refused to let them inside the castle. This was probably for the best as a bunch of raucous people brandishing fire isn’t the best for safe indoor gatherings…

Halloween Duds

As with any era, there are some things you look back on and think “oh, honey”. Costumes were one of those. While they weren’t outrageous and they certainly weren’t the skimpy little things people where today, they were, honestly, somewhat boring. The Victorians loved understated costumes. They would embellish their regular outfits instead of donning a costume. Just think of how amazing their parties would’ve been if they went as nuts with their costumes as they did their decorations.

Spooky stories weren’t a thing either. Sorry thriller lovers. Romance stories were all the rage during Halloween to go along with their wedding predictions. Sometimes writers would add spooky elements, but they were typically used for the protagonist to overcome in order to get to their loved one.

Some stories were what you’d expect. Ghost stories were sometimes told around a fire while holding a burning stick. The storyteller had until the fire reached their fingers to finish their ghost story. While that adds an element of drama, it might lead to really rushed stories and no time for suspense.

What’s Your Favorite Part of Halloween?

I’m a huge sucker for the candy and for dressing up my pets for Halloween so they can hand out candy with us on our front porch! Let me know your favorite aspects of spooky season in the comments below.


3 thoughts on “Interesting Halloween Traditions from the Victorian Era

  1. Absolutely fascinating and supremely enjoyable post! This is not a tradition I would contemplate repeating, but I went to Hampton Court Palace, where the ghost of Catherine Howard was said to haunt the hallway leading to Henry’s chamber, (in a slightly agitated state) just having been informed, he was going to lop her head off. Edinburgh offers numerous walking, ghost tours, year round. They follow the spectrum of fun, to downright terrifying. Happy Halloween!

    Liked by 1 person

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