You probably know Jane Austen didn’t go trick-or-treating, but do you know which holidays she celebrated during the autumn months? See how well you do on my little true or false quiz.
True or False:
- Michaelmas was a bigger holiday than Christmas during Regency times.
- Michaelmas was considered a good time to move to a new home.
- On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the spirits of the dead were thought to roam free.
- Jane Austen probably celebrated All Hallows Eve with a bonfire.
- On November 1, All Saints Day, people commemorated the most prominent saints with a feast day.
- Usually those who celebrated All Saints Day would hold an all-night vigil on October 31.
- On All Souls Day (November 2), young men would offer prayers for the dead in exchange for kisses.
- Children would sing a souling song as they went begging from door to door on All Souls Day.
- Many believed they could commune with the dead during the time between All Hallows Eve and the New Year.
- Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) celebrated the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to assassinate the king.
- True. Two hundred years ago, Michaelmas was a bigger deal in England than Christmas.
The English celebrated Michaelmas on September 29, marking the transition from summer to autumn.
- True. Michaelmas was also a day for personal transitions, as happened in Persuasion–the Crofts moved to Kellynch. Michaelmas was a good day to lease a new home, hire servants, pay a debt, or to perform any other important duty. Michaelmas was held in honor of Saint Michael. Thanks perhaps to John Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost in 1667, Saint Michael was a hero to the English people during Austen’s time. Many English churches are named in Saint Michael’s honor.
- True. All Hallows Eve was the Regency version of Halloween and occurred on October 31. It was originally an ancient Celtic holiday (Samhain), and according to superstition, it was the day in which spirits roamed free. People lit their homes with lanterns carved from beets, turnips, rutabagas, and later pumpkins, hoping to welcome kind spirits while driving away evil spirits. Another tradition of All Hallow’s Eve was freedom from the usual rules. This is where the trick part of trick-or-treating originated. Men would wear women’s clothing, and pranksters would get into mischief of all varieties.
- False. Many of the English did not celebrate All Hallows Eve during the Regency Era. It was mostly country people who kept the customs. Jane Austen doesn’t mention All Hallow’s Eve in any of her books or letters, so scholars believe she didn’t celebrate it at all.
- False. All Saints Day was (and still is) a feast day in which churchgoers celebrated all saints who did not already have their own holiday. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to November in order to coincide with the Celtic Samhain, hoping to substitute a Christian holiday for a pagan one.
- True. Catholics and Anglicans would traditionally keep a vigil during the night of October 31, the night before All Saints Day. This vigil may have included a bonfire.
- False. All Souls Day (November 2) was a day to remember the dead whose souls were still in purgatory. Beggars walked from door-to-door, promising prayers for the inhabitants’ departed loved ones in exchange for soul cakes. Traditionally, each soul cake eaten by the poor became a soul freed from purgatory.
- Children would often sing a song like the following as they begged on All Souls Day: A soul, a soul, for a soul cake!
Please, good missus, a soul cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.
- True. The superstitious believed they could speak with the dead or receive special insights during the time between October 31 and January 1. This notion gave rise to Charles Dickens’ popular story, A Christmas Carol.
- False. Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 was a political holiday, celebrating the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who had plotted to blow up Parliament. Throughout England, citizens lit bonfires and set off fireworks. It was also a time of pranking, mischief, and begging.
Please comment and let me know how you did.