Victorian Merrymaking Was Risky Business!

Eleanor Rose

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snap-apple-night-by-daniel-maclise-1833-e1508825553315.png

"Snap-Apple Night" by Daniel Maclise, 1833.
Despite their reputation for being quite straight-laced, our Victorian friends celebrated Halloween with great enthusiasm—and often with outright abandon. Victorian Halloween parties were filled with fun, games and spooky rituals. Many of these games had origins in pagan religion or medieval superstition. Most were merely a means of making merry with friends. Either way, Halloween parties in the 19th century were an occasion for indulging in wild, mischievous and often risky games. Victorian merrymaking was indeed sometimes risky business!

Indoor party games were quite popular with our Victorian friends. Many of their games were a means of predicting the future, especially in relation to discovering the sort of gentleman whom one would eventually marry. In fact, the emphasis on matchmaking at these parties frequently overshadowed the more sinister associations of the holiday, such as witchcraft and communing with the dead.

In her 1893 book entitled How to Amuse Yourself and Others, author Linda Beard lists some of the most common Victorian party games (popular both in England and America). The first involves melting lead in order to determine the occupation of one’s future husband. Beard describes the game as follows:

“Each girl, in turn, holds a door-key in one hand, while with the other hand she pours the melted lead, from an iron spoon or ladle, through the handle of the key into a pan of cold water. In the fanciful shapes the lead assumes can be traced resemblances to all sorts of things. Sometimes it is a sword or gun, which indicates that a soldier will win the fair prize; again, traces of a ship may be seen: then the favored one is to be a sailor; a plough suggests a farmer; a book, a professor, or perhaps a minister; and when the lead forms only drops, it seems to mean that the gentle inquirer will not marry, or if she does, her husband will be of no profession.”

Another game called “Three Luggies” derives from a game mentioned in Robert Burns’ 1785 poem Halloween. It reads in part:

"In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged;
An’ ev’ry time great care is ta’en
To see them duly changed."


The game of "Three Luggies" required three bowls – one filled with clear water, one with milky water, and the last one empty. The three bowls were placed on the hearthstone and the young lady who wished to play was blindfolded and led up to them. As Beard describes:

“She is then told to put her left hand into one of the bowls. If she dips her fingers in the clear water, she will marry a bachelor; if in the milky water, a widower; and if into the empty bowl, it is a sure sign that she will live in single blessedness all her days. This ceremony must be gone through with three times, and the hand be dipped twice in the same bowl, in order to make the prediction of any value.”

There is a version of this game for gentlemen as well. It is nearly identical, except that, according to the 1832 Book of Days, one of the bowls was filled with “foul water.” If the gentleman dipped his fingers into the clean water, he was destined to marry a maiden. If he dipped his fingers into the foul water, there was a widow in his future. And if he encountered the empty bowl, he was fated to end his days a bachelor.

Another popular game involved roasting nuts in order to test friendship or compatibility. This particular game is mentioned in many books and articles of the era. In it, two nuts are chosen and placed side by side on the grate or on a shovel that is held over the fire. Beard explains:

“If they burn quietly, it is prophetic of a long and happy friendship kept up by both parties; but if in roasting they burst with a loud report and fly apart, they are decidedly uncongenial, and should not seek much intercourse. The movements of the nuts while heating are closely watched, for the tempers of the persons for whom they are named is said to be thus revealed.”

Games with mirrors were also a favorite. The Book of Days describes a particular “spell” which involved eating an apple in front of a mirror. If the spirits were amenable, the young lady would be able to see the reflection of the gentleman she would one day marry “peeping over her shoulder.”

halloween-greeting-card-depicting-the-magic-mirror-game-circa-1904-185x300.jpg

Halloween Greeting Card depicting the Magic Mirror game, circa 1904.

Beard mentions another game in which a mirror was used to discern how many incidents of good fortune would befall a person in the coming year. In order to do this, Beard explains:

“The conditions are that the person wishing to know how bright her prospects are shall go to an open window or door from which the moon is visible, and, standing with her face in-doors, hold her mirror so that the moon will be reflected in it. The number of moons she sees there betokens the number of times something pleasant will happen to her before the advent of another Halloween.”

It was fairly common in the Victorian era for most of these games to be geared toward young ladies. However, there was plenty of games for young gentlemen too. Aside from bobbing (also called ducking) for apples, there was the rather perilous “Apple and Candle” game. This game involved hanging up a stick horizontally by a string and attaching a lit candle to one end and an apple to the other. The Book of Days explains:

“The stick being made to twirl rapidly, the merry-makers in succession leap up and snatch at the apple with their teeth (no use of the hands being allowed), but it very frequently happens that the candle comes round before they are aware, and scorches them in the face, or anoints them with grease.”

ducking-for-apples-on-halloween-illustration-from-the-book-of-days-1832-e1508825833597.png

Ducking for Apples on Halloween. The Book of Days, 1832.
Finally, no party was complete without the game called “The Ghostly Fire.” In this game, salt and alcohol were put into a dish with a few raisins and lit on fire. When the flame was at its highest, the partygoers linked hands and danced around the table on which the fire burned. Beard writes:

“The dance was not prolonged, for it was our duty, before the fire was spent, to snatch from the flames the raisins we had put in the dish. This can be done, if one is careful, without as much as scorching the fingers, and I never knew of anyone burning themselves while making the attempt.”

Some Victorian Halloween games were indeed risky. I’ll close with the following 1896 newspaper article as an example:

canterbury-journal-1896-halloween-caused-her-death.png

“Hallowe’en Caused her Death” from The Canterbury Journal, 1896.


Sources:

Beard, Linda. How to Amuse Yourself and Others. New York: Scribner & Sons, 1893.

Chambers, Robert. Ed. The Book of Days. London: W. R. Chambers, 1832.
 

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nitrofd

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snap-apple-night-by-daniel-maclise-1833-e1508825553315.png

"Snap-Apple Night" by Daniel Maclise, 1833.
Despite their reputation for being quite straight-laced, our Victorian friends celebrated Halloween with great enthusiasm—and often with outright abandon. Victorian Halloween parties were filled with fun, games and spooky rituals. Many of these games had origins in pagan religion or medieval superstition. Most were merely a means of making merry with friends. Either way, Halloween parties in the 19th century were an occasion for indulging in wild, mischievous and often risky games. Victorian merrymaking was indeed sometimes risky business!

Indoor party games were quite popular with our Victorian friends. Many of their games were a means of predicting the future, especially in relation to discovering the sort of gentleman whom one would eventually marry. In fact, the emphasis on matchmaking at these parties frequently overshadowed the more sinister associations of the holiday, such as witchcraft and communing with the dead.

In her 1893 book entitled How to Amuse Yourself and Others, author Linda Beard lists some of the most common Victorian party games (popular both in England and America). The first involves melting lead in order to determine the occupation of one’s future husband. Beard describes the game as follows:

“Each girl, in turn, holds a door-key in one hand, while with the other hand she pours the melted lead, from an iron spoon or ladle, through the handle of the key into a pan of cold water. In the fanciful shapes the lead assumes can be traced resemblances to all sorts of things. Sometimes it is a sword or gun, which indicates that a soldier will win the fair prize; again, traces of a ship may be seen: then the favored one is to be a sailor; a plough suggests a farmer; a book, a professor, or perhaps a minister; and when the lead forms only drops, it seems to mean that the gentle inquirer will not marry, or if she does, her husband will be of no profession.”

Another game called “Three Luggies” derives from a game mentioned in Robert Burns’ 1785 poem Halloween. It reads in part:

"In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged;
An’ ev’ry time great care is ta’en
To see them duly changed."


The game of "Three Luggies" required three bowls – one filled with clear water, one with milky water, and the last one empty. The three bowls were placed on the hearthstone and the young lady who wished to play was blindfolded and led up to them. As Beard describes:

“She is then told to put her left hand into one of the bowls. If she dips her fingers in the clear water, she will marry a bachelor; if in the milky water, a widower; and if into the empty bowl, it is a sure sign that she will live in single blessedness all her days. This ceremony must be gone through with three times, and the hand be dipped twice in the same bowl, in order to make the prediction of any value.”

There is a version of this game for gentlemen as well. It is nearly identical, except that, according to the 1832 Book of Days, one of the bowls was filled with “foul water.” If the gentleman dipped his fingers into the clean water, he was destined to marry a maiden. If he dipped his fingers into the foul water, there was a widow in his future. And if he encountered the empty bowl, he was fated to end his days a bachelor.

Another popular game involved roasting nuts in order to test friendship or compatibility. This particular game is mentioned in many books and articles of the era. In it, two nuts are chosen and placed side by side on the grate or on a shovel that is held over the fire. Beard explains:

“If they burn quietly, it is prophetic of a long and happy friendship kept up by both parties; but if in roasting they burst with a loud report and fly apart, they are decidedly uncongenial, and should not seek much intercourse. The movements of the nuts while heating are closely watched, for the tempers of the persons for whom they are named is said to be thus revealed.”

Games with mirrors were also a favorite. The Book of Days describes a particular “spell” which involved eating an apple in front of a mirror. If the spirits were amenable, the young lady would be able to see the reflection of the gentleman she would one day marry “peeping over her shoulder.”

halloween-greeting-card-depicting-the-magic-mirror-game-circa-1904-185x300.jpg

Halloween Greeting Card depicting the Magic Mirror game, circa 1904.

Beard mentions another game in which a mirror was used to discern how many incidents of good fortune would befall a person in the coming year. In order to do this, Beard explains:

“The conditions are that the person wishing to know how bright her prospects are shall go to an open window or door from which the moon is visible, and, standing with her face in-doors, hold her mirror so that the moon will be reflected in it. The number of moons she sees there betokens the number of times something pleasant will happen to her before the advent of another Halloween.”

It was fairly common in the Victorian era for most of these games to be geared toward young ladies. However, there was plenty of games for young gentlemen too. Aside from bobbing (also called ducking) for apples, there was the rather perilous “Apple and Candle” game. This game involved hanging up a stick horizontally by a string and attaching a lit candle to one end and an apple to the other. The Book of Days explains:

“The stick being made to twirl rapidly, the merry-makers in succession leap up and snatch at the apple with their teeth (no use of the hands being allowed), but it very frequently happens that the candle comes round before they are aware, and scorches them in the face, or anoints them with grease.”

ducking-for-apples-on-halloween-illustration-from-the-book-of-days-1832-e1508825833597.png

Ducking for Apples on Halloween. The Book of Days, 1832.
Finally, no party was complete without the game called “The Ghostly Fire.” In this game, salt and alcohol were put into a dish with a few raisins and lit on fire. When the flame was at its highest, the partygoers linked hands and danced around the table on which the fire burned. Beard writes:

“The dance was not prolonged, for it was our duty, before the fire was spent, to snatch from the flames the raisins we had put in the dish. This can be done, if one is careful, without as much as scorching the fingers, and I never knew of anyone burning themselves while making the attempt.”

Some Victorian Halloween games were indeed risky. I’ll close with the following 1896 newspaper article as an example:

canterbury-journal-1896-halloween-caused-her-death.png

“Hallowe’en Caused her Death” from The Canterbury Journal, 1896.


Sources:

Beard, Linda. How to Amuse Yourself and Others. New York: Scribner & Sons, 1893.

Chambers, Robert. Ed. The Book of Days. London: W. R. Chambers, 1832.
As it has always been said the "Victorians had too much free time onn their hands".
 

Deleted User CS

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Ellie. A question: Were a lot of the marriages during the Victorian era pre-arranged? I read stories during the Victorian period where mixed marriages were out of the question, especially those concerning financial interests and religion. Would the older families of the South in today's modern period still follow the old traditions of pre-arranged marriages or would mixed marriages be allowed? I anticipate and await your response. David.
 
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I like the painting in the OP because it shows how dimly lit rooms were when candles were the only source of light. It's a bit off topic, but I was so much reminded of a paragraph from one of my favorite books, "At home" by Bill Bryson (@John Winn , another one you might want to have a look at!), that I thought I could share it here:

light.JPG

https://books.google.de/books?id=0uToD00jHVMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bryson+at+home&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjmzurz8qPeAhVBb1AKHR23D-YQ6AEIQjAE#v=onepage&q&f=false
 

Eleanor Rose

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Ellie. A question: Were a lot of the marriages during the Victorian era pre-arranged? I read stories during the Victorian period where mixed marriages were out of the question, especially those concerning financial interests and religion. Would the older families of the South in today's modern period still follow the old traditions of pre-arranged marriages or would mixed marriages be allowed? I anticipate and await your response. David.
2530081.jpg

"The Arranged Marriage", 1862 painting by Vasili Pukirev.
This is an interesting question David. Historically, it was the primary way in which future spouses were introduced. An important fact to note is that an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, nor is it necessarily an involuntary union foisted upon unwilling participants by their families.

As for today in Old South society, they certainly continue to occur. Now before anyone reading this post gasps, I’m not saying parents select their child’s spouse and force the marriage upon them (although I actually do know a few that have dangled the “inheritance” over some heads). The modern version of arranged marriages look more akin to matchmaking than anything else and I think they will always have a role to play. Social and familial structures in my neck of the woods continue to bring singles together. There are still plenty of folks who are glad to have some help finding a spouse with whom they can build a life.

I think the concept of formal arranged marriages (thinking globally) will continue to dwindle in numbers as women in patriarchal societies gain increasing economic and social freedom. The idea that someone should be married by a certain age has certainly marched steadily higher for every generation.

All of this leads to an interesting question and one many have pondered over the centuries. Can marriage come before love?
 

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Deleted User CS

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2530081.jpg

"The Arranged Marriage", 1862 painting by Vasili Pukirev.
This is an interesting question David. Historically, it was the primary way in which future spouses were introduced. An important fact to note is that an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, nor is it necessarily an involuntary union foisted upon unwilling participants by their families.

As for today in Old South society, they certainly continue to occur. Now before anyone reading this post gasps, I’m not saying parents select their child’s spouse and force the marriage upon them (although I actually do know a few that have dangled the “inheritance” over some heads). The modern version of arranged marriages look more akin to matchmaking than anything else and I think they will always have a role to play. Social and familial structures in my neck of the woods continue to bring singles together. There are still plenty of folks who are glad to have some help finding a spouse with whom they can build a life.

I think the concept of formal arranged marriages (thinking globally) will continue to dwindle in numbers as women in patriarchal societies gain increasing economic and social freedom. The idea that someone should be married by a certain age has certainly marched steadily higher for every generation.

All of this leads to an interesting question and one many have pondered over the centuries. Can marriage come before love?
Ellie. Thank you very much for providing an outstanding answer to my question. I greatly appreciate it and I am sure the forum appreciates you educating us all and thrilling us with your acumen. David.
 

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Can marriage come before love?
I'm sure of that.
Love can be learned if there is a base consisting of friendship, trust and mutual respect. True, the butterflies will probably be lacking, but how long do they stay anyway? A calm, solid happiness is also worth something - and in the long run, it may even last longer than a rush of passion between two people who are merely physically attracted to each other (which is often mistaken for love).
I'm not saying one is better than the other. There are longlasting love matches as well as there were unhappy arranged ones - but also vice versa!
How many love matches of today end in becoming tired of each other? Look at the divorce rates, they are not downright advocating marriage for love...
So no matter what made the match, affection or arrangement - much more important is what makes it last.

This having said, I'm sure 20 year olds will vehemently disagree! :smile:
 

Eleanor Rose

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I'm sure of that.
Love can be learned if there is a base consisting of friendship, trust and mutual respect. True, the butterflies will probably be lacking, but how long do they stay anyway? A calm, solid happiness is also worth something - and in the long run, it may even last longer than a rush of passion between two people who are merely physically attracted to each other (which is often mistaken for love).
I'm not saying one is better than the other. There are longlasting love matches as well as there were unhappy arranged ones - but also vice versa!
How many love matches of today end in becoming tired of each other? Look at the divorce rates, they are not downright advocating marriage for love...
So no matter what made the match, affection or arrangement - much more important is what makes it last.

This having said, I'm sure 20 year olds will vehemently disagree! :smile:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andrea. I think this is an interesting subject to discuss. Arranged marriages were common as far back as Biblical times and beyond. The traditional purposes of these types of unions were political, military and social. There is the belief among some that the high divorce rate in countries such as the United States is due to overly high expectations that a marriage based on love will always be happy and fulfilling. People entering into arranged marriages tend to look first at the practical aspects of forming a solid partnership, with the hope that affection and possibly love will grow over time. It is theorized that a more realistic foundation of what a marriage means results in a commitment to the marriage, through good times and challenging ones. In addition, with the emotionally charged nature of love removed from the equation, a more level headed evaluation can be made of the factors which the couple may share in common.

Most Americans are deeply invested in the concept of free will and personal choice for marriage. However, there are certainly some for whom the idea of being matched with a spouse certainly beats playing the field and hoping for the best. A relationship certainly has a better chance of success if both parties are committed to commitment. Unfortunately many seem to just accept that "it" might not work, an expression which seems to remove any personal responsibility for "its" success.

Like you said, it's likely many "20 year olds will vehemently disagree!" I certainly respect that.
 


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