Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Origins of Halloween in America Part 4

Two ancient Roman festivals that became mixed with the Celtic Samhain, were Seed Fall  “Ferealia” a festival in which the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead and “Pomaona” when the Roman Goddess of fruit trees was honored. 

Some state that our Halloween custom of bobbing for apples derives from this ancient link to this Roman fruit goddess and a Druid practice associated with water. But there is no historical evidence to support this claim.

What we do know is bobbing for apples actually has its roots in romantic wishes. The game of bobbing for apples dates back at least a couple of centuries. It originated in the British Isles—particularly in Scotland and Ireland. It originally had to do with fortune telling. 

British author W.H. Davenport Adams connected this game to “old Celtic fairy lore”. He describes the game in his 1902 book entitled Curiosities of Superstitions.

He states apples were thrown in a tub of water and the players would then endeavor to catch one in their mouth. This was difficult because the apples would bob about. 

When the player succeeded in catching one they would then peel it carefully. The long strip of peel that resulted would then be passed three times, sunwise, * round the players head, afterwards it would be thrown over the shoulder. 

It was watched as it fell to the ground because it was believed it formed a shape of a letter as it hit the ground. This letter was supposedly the first initial of their “true love’s name”.

Other Halloween prediction games that were played in Great Britain included “snap apple’. This game was similar to bobbing for apples but the apples were hung from the ceiling by string instead. 

Another game played with the belief it would predict one’s true love involved naming nutshells with perspective lover’s names and then placing them near the fire. If the nutshell burned steadily it was believed it indicated that this person was going to be a “a true love” but if the nutshell cracked or popped off the hearth it indicated that person was just “a passing fancy”. 

In areas where these customs were observed Halloween was called “Snap-Apple Night” or “Nutshell Night”. 

These practices remind me of the more modern game where pairs of the opposite sex pass an orange to another pair without using their hands but just their bodies. I played this game at one Halloween Party while in college. I still remember how good my partner smelled. LOL

In The Origins of Halloween I discuss how the Halloween celebration has changed in my lifetime.

*  "Sunwise" means in a clockwise direction or in the direction of the sun's daily motion.

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