In the Victorian era, there were some traditions that revolved around death that we would find a little strange today, including Mourning Tea. In fact, mourning was a part of every aspect of daily life, so why not tea time too.
A widow was expected to mourn for at least two years after the passing of her husband; if she didn’t, it meant that her marriage was invalid. When in mourning for that long, it was necessary that it was incorporated into their daily life.
The widow would wear a monochromatic wardrobe of black without any frills or shine for the first year. She also had to withdraw from society events for this time, although she was allowed to have friends call on her. The second year brought about a slight change in wardrobe, lightening her colors a bit to dark purples and greys and being allowed to attend a few social functions.
With this long period of mourning women had to adjust their daily activities around their new position in society, like tea time. At the time, cemeteries where visited like we visit parks today so mourners would bring their baskets filled with biscuits, sandwiches, and tea to have a picnic with their loved ones who had passed on. They visited regularly, bringing family and friends for a tea party by the tombstone of their loved one.
There were some superstitions around death as well. For instance, all the mirrors in the house were covered with a heavy black cloth to prevent the deceased’s spirit from being trapped in the glass while awaiting burial. During this waiting time, it was believed that the next reflection seen in the mirror would be the next to die.
It was also believed that spirits could escape the body of the living. This is why people covered their mouth when they yawned, to prevent their spirit from leaving their body and becoming the possession of the devil.
Corpses had to be removed from the home feet first to keep the deceased from “looking back” and calling another family member to join them. And if two deaths occurred within a family, it was believed that a third would soon follow. (The reason we still believe that bad things happen in three’s.)
When one family suffered several deaths, black ribbons were tied to every living thing entering the home to stop the spread of death to other people and animals. Stopping the clock at the moment of death was done to prevent other untimely deaths.
With all of these strange traditions and superstitions around death, it’s no wonder people continued to live their daily lives through it; mourning was a continual part of life.
I don’t know about enjoying a picnic tea party at the cemetery during the upcoming Day of the Dead, but I’ll enjoy my Mourning Tea by thinking fondly of my loved ones who have passed while sipping a cup or two. What about you?