Monday, March 28, 2011

Games people play.

Right, wrong -- they just can't stop it.

This vintage postcard image was sent to me by loyal S&Per Greymatter (must be the brains of the outfit, thanks GM!) and while I haven't the slightest notion of what is meant by '5allowe'en' or why it should require courage, it makes me happy.

It also immediately reminds me that some posts back I promised to post more about Hallowe'en games.

Unlike that post, however, this one will go decidedly "old school".


That Hallowe'en is traditionally a time of fortune-telling and fortune-seeking is nothing new, but for many younger, modern Autumn folks, the notion of Hallowe'en as a romantic, match-making holiday might seem a little odd if not plain wrong.

I don't mean the ill-conceived pairings that often stumble into each other at drunken Hallowe'en parties; lying face down in someone's shower stall waiting for the ambulance and a stomach pump somehow strikes me as less than romantic, and hardly a good omen for your personal future, let alone your romantic future with the stranger who kissed you then had to call 911 'cause your eyes never opened after the kiss.

But to All Hallow's Eve celebrants in Victorian days and well into the turn of the 20th century, Hallowe'en was a decidedly romantic time for grown ups, for young men, sure, but especially for young women who were ready (or at least thought they were ready) for marriage and motherhood... and the little sisters of those same young women, who loved the giggling, grandiose pre-teen fantasy of romance.

For evidence of this, one need look no further than the vintage Hallowe'en postcard.

AH! Witches, young girls and bobbing for apples. As vintage Hallowe'en as it gets.

Apple bobbing, or 'ducking', was ridiculously popular at Hallowe'en for generations, and especially from the 1900's until at least the 1940's (and it features for a short moment in It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in 1966, so it held on for a long time. Yuck!). 

The variations were many, but one of the most popular was a ducking game where three of the apples had hidden inside them a dime, a ring, or a button. These respectively denoted the finders fortune, romance or "single blessedness" (you have to love the Victorian zeal to remove from the loser the embarrassment of loserhood by simply calling it something else). 

Another variant has the bobber (does that make the apple the bobbee?) 
sleep with that apple under their pillow that night to see their future sweetheart 
in their dreams. I imagine it was even better if their future sweetheart was a 
chiropractor after that particular night's sleep.

In other versions, young would-be brides were admonished to eat the apple 
as they brushed their hair at midnight, and they would see 
the reflection of their future groom in the mirror.

But if she turned to look over her shoulder to see if he was really there, he'd disappear, 
and then who knew what would replace his reflection?

In fact, mirrors figure prominently in early Hallowe'en romance games. 
The variations here too are many, but the common denominator was 
waiting until midnight, the witching hour

I think, given what's actually happening here, this girl seems awfully calm and in control. 
In case it's difficult to read the text:

May the reflection which you see 
Be the counterfeit of me.

Seems more Mirror of Erised than anything else, but maybe that was high romance back then.

 A girl, her pumpkin-vanity mirror, and yes folks, that's CUPID, stinkin' cherubic li'l Cupid
up there on a Hallowe'en postcard. He shows up here too:

Apparently Cupid, dressed as a witch, got people to do all these weird things. A candle's
grease will spell the name of your partner? Hhmmm... no chance for cheating there!

Another water bowl divination game, this time a Scottish card depicting a
Scottish tradition. The three 'luggies', as the wooden bowls are called, are filled with
clean water, dirty water and no water, by touching which the blindfolded player
would decide if they were marrying a virgin, will be widowed, or 
will not find love -- all while Big Jupiter Head Disco Man 
prepares to enter the Time-Space Portal. What?

Blowing out candles as expediently as possible was another 
means of romantic divination. As the above card tells us,
a single puff meant the best chance of wedding soon; two
meant less of a chance, and three or more meant you
would, um... enjoy "single blessedness" for the coming year.

I absolutely do not know what any amount of puffs on a candle attached
to a swinging apple meant to anyone's romantic plans, and am a little
afraid to find out. All I can really say is, given the amount of
volatile makeups, clothing, hair pomades and perfumes in those days, this was
a really, really good idea and made for many fun parties.

Apples are prominent Fall fruits, so they play a large part in these old games, and one
of my favorites is the Peeling Game, where players try to peel an apple with
a long, single slice, and wherever it breaks, toss it over their shoulder to the floor.
The fallen peel's shape will indicate the initial(s) of your soon-to-be-betrothed.
The beyond-chance preponderance of Victorian marriages to men with names
beginning with s, e, u, c and o is finally explained.

Here's a game for which I can locate no illustration, but must share as I read in 

"... at dusk on Halloween night, sit in front of an open fire with your friend or love. Each of you should take a nut and place it in front of the flames. Watch the nuts to see if they glow and smolder, or burst and crackle. If both glow and smolder, it means that your relationship will be a lasting one. If one bursts, or worse, if both burst and crackle, it means that your relationship will end in a terrible argument."

Yep. Probably over why you chose to play a game that ended with her getting glowing cinders
of hot, exploded nut shell in her eyes.


Oh, the traditional Victorian Hallowe'en Romance Game.
So warm, so normal, so not weird at all.

Apparently, some of us quite literally would not be here but for you.

More games to come another time.
For now, next week's trip to Monsterpalooza looms large...
More soon!



  1. Great post! I love old Halloween postcards; they're so . . . innocently creepy. And kinda disturbing. Given the prevalence of flaming candles in those old Halloween "games", it would be interesting to know what the fatality rate was. <:O

  2. Something about those cards just makes me want to go back in time and see how they were used and what people really thought about them. They seem so playful and in the history of them that seems to be the case....just kinda want to be "there" for just a moment... :)