Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween Trivia

Since it's Halloween Awareness month, I thought I would share some Halloween trivia that I learned while researching my current project. My book takes place in 1895 at a women's college in Upstate New York. So I was curious as to how people in Victorian America celebrated Halloween or even if they did celebrate it at all.

I was surprised to learn that some of the Halloween traditions that we know today were present in Victorian America. For one thing, they actually had candy corn! Yes, that too sweet orange and yellow candy that we associate with Halloween was available in the 1890's. In fact, according to Wikipedia, candy corn was created in the 1880's by George Renninger of the Wunderlee Candy Co. The three colors of the candy, orange, yellow and white are supposed to mimic the colors of corn. There is also 'Indian Corn' which is white, yellow and brown.

I also learned that it was the Irish who brought the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns to this country. It was named after the strange phenomenon of light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o-latern. Both in Ireland and Britain, there was a long tradition of carving laterns from vegetables. However carved laterns did not specifically become associated with Halloween until 1866. Originally laterns in the US were associated with the Harvest season in general, before it got folded into Halloween.

Agnes Carr Sage wrote in, "Halloween Sports and Customs," Harper's Young People, October 27, 1885, p. 828: "It is an ancient Scottish custom to light great bonfires on Halloween, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this American boys delight in the funny grinning jack-o'-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside."

You can read the Irish folktale of Jack here. Another story that I read in a Time-Life book on America in the 19th century stated that young girls on Halloween would walk down the stairs backward holding up a mirror to see if they saw their future husband. You just know that I had to include that little tidbit in my book.

I also learned that in America, while there was no trick-or-treating yet per se, there were kids who played Halloween tricks in the big cities.

See, sometimes you can learn fun things while researching!

No comments: