Texas Discovers Halloween

Halloween celebrations came to America and to Texas with Irish immigrants.

At first it was only celebrated in Irish enclaves, but intermarriage brought the custom to non-Irish in-laws, and before long, it seemed everyone wanted in on the fun.

As the Fort Worth Gazette reported in 1891, “It is growing upon American people in countryside quarters and even in city homes.”

In 1885, the San Antonio Light took efforts to explain the new old holiday that had become so popular with the young people of the city.

“Tonight will be Hallow-E’en. Hallow-E’en is a great night for the small boy and the yearning maiden.” Small boy and yearning maiden? Those seem like disparate demographics to take the keenest interest in the celebration. Could this really be Halloween as we know it?

“The small boy revels In doorbell pulling, dead cats and lively smelling vegetables.” That certainly sounds like the “trick” part of Trick or Treat. Fortunately this old-fashioned fun was gentled by time and has all but disappeared.

But what about those maidens?

“The yearning maiden attempts to pry into the future and discover who her life partner is to be. She has all manner of ways of discovering the coming man.” And there you have the lost secret of Halloween. Before the first world war, it was the dark cousin of Valentines Day, when the veil between the worlds lifted, witches and faeries intruded upon this realm and future amour could be divined.

The San Antonio reporter explained how it was done:

“The ceremonies of Hallow-E’en are old, and touch the ludicrous; but they will be gone through tonight by many girls of this city. One ceremony by which a would-be bride settles the problem of whether she will he proposed to before the next Hallow-E’en comes round is very funny.  
The lady fills her mouth full of water and runs helter-skelter along the street for a space of two blocks. If on the way she swallows or ejects any of the water, her chances are over for at least twelve months.

Another means of not only solving the same question, but of getting a glimpse of an intended husband, is for the candidate to retire with a looking-glass to a cellar. At the hour of midnight she glares intently into the mirror, and as the last stroke of 12 has died away, sees looking over her shoulder the image of the intended one.”

Postcard – c.1910

But it wasn’t all dead cats and longing for love.

There was good clean fun to be had. It was customary for Halloween parties to take place in the kitchen, where youngsters took part in some familiar games.

Again from the San Antonio Light:

“A game much played on Hallow-E’en is diving for apples. The fruit are placed in a tub of water and the players, with their hands tied behind their backs, bob their heads under the water and bring up what they can in their months.”

They also took part in some not so familiar games:

“Sometimes long rows of candle ends, nuts and fruit are tied to a string across the room. The players, who are blind-folded, walk towards the string and, without being allowed to make use of their sense of touch, hit blindly at the dangling prizes. If they catch a candle end they are compelled to eat it.”

You have to wonder if those boys and girls waxed nostalgic for candle ends in their later years.

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