There is more to the fall tradition of bobbing for apples than meets the eye! Did you know that it was used by adult party-goers in the Victorian era to flirt and find love? Or that one version of the game was a fire hazard? It didn’t start out as a children’s game, far from it!
Bobbing for apples: the origin story
While many enjoy apples all year long, they are in fact a fall fruit and have been heavily associated with fall for most of history. This, and the fact that they are deliciously sweet and can be enjoyed raw, make them the perfect fall harvest food for parties. It is impossible to know the exact origins of bobbing for apples, but multiple sources I read claim that the apple tree was brought to Britain during the Roman invasion and that due to the apple’s long association with various goddesses of love, silly party games using the fruit already existed and were passed down through time.
Whatever the case, such games peaked in popularity during the 19th century when Halloween had a much stronger emphasis on love and romance than it does now.
Bobbing for boyfriends
Halloween has always had a relationship with spirits and ghosts. When combined with the interest 19th western society had with spiritualism and courtship, it made for a great holiday to use mysterious, unknown forces to find love. Many a Halloween card from the Victorian era shows a fair maiden holding a candle and looking into a mirror on Halloween night. These cards portray the well-known tradition of the time of looking into a mirror on the night of October 31st to have one’s future husband revealed to them.
Bobbing for apples was another seasonal opportunity to discover the person one was meant to be with. While now mostly played by children, in the Victorian era it was a popular party game used by adults to add flirty flair to a fall or Halloween event. I have read about several versions of the game:
-Assigning each apple to a male guest before placing it in the water. Female guests were then meant to “bob” for the apple assigned to their desired suitor. The more tries it took her to bite into the apple, the less likely it was that the two would end up together.
(I have some suspicions about this version as it would force young Victorian women to be quite forward about their romantic desires, but who knows.)
-After female party guests retrieved their apples they were meant to take them home, place them under their pillow, and proceed to dream about their future husband.
-When competing during bobbing for apples, the winner was said to be the one who would marry first.
-And sometimes, the game was simply played for fun. I suspect that this was often the case.
Waste not! Use the entire apple to find love
Victorians and Edwardians loved to look for ways to add spooky significance to things, and finding love during the fall wasn’t left to one night of looking in the mirror or one game of bobbing for apples. I have found other games of discovering romance that leave no part of the apple neglected.
Forget tea leaves! Try apple peels
Do you peel your apples? I don’t, but I enjoy seeing someone peel one using a knife and slowly stripping the skin off in one long spiral. In the 19th century, the spiral could also be used to reveal one’s destined love. Says Southern Kitchen:
After the apples were retrieved from the water they were peeled. Once a long enough section of skin was peeled, it was swirled around a young woman’s head three times (yes it was that specific) and tossed over her shoulder, where it was supposed to reveal the first initial of her future spouse.
Squeeze the seeds
And of course, let’s not forget the perfectly implanted star of seeds that an apple holds. One tradition I’ve read about involves placing the seeds on one’s forehead after enjoying the apple. But first, assign each seed to a different crush. The seed that stays put for the longest will reveal which crush will be successful.
Readers Digest describes multiple ways of using the slipperiness of apple seeds to predict from whence a lover will come. In one game a seed is squeezed between two fingers. When it escapes, it will fly in the direction that your future lover will arrive from (I don’t really understand what this really explains, but okay!). In another game, two seeds are thrown into a fire. If they go in two directions when thrown, there will be no love match with your intended. If they land together, you will end up together.
Have you heard of snap apple? It is another fall game involving trying to bite an apple, but this time without water, though one would be advised to keep some nearby. In this version of the game, an apple is hung from a rope, connected to one end of a stick. On the other end, one would find a lit candle. As the stick swung from side to side one would attempt to bite into the apple. If they failed, they might end up with a splash of candle wax on their face.
I guess we can easily see why this fall tradition went out of style!
When I read about snap apple I found it quite hard to picture, so I went searching for images to share. Does it look like a game you’d enjoy?
When the general public determined playing with a lit candle was indeed too dangerous, versions were played with just a rope and apple. And here yet again we see a strong flirty angle to the game.
I don’t know about you, but I think I prefer to leave being hit in the face by an apple our of my fall celebrations, though I do want to keep apples involved. I like to make and decorate caramel apples around Halloween and think it is the perfect fall tradition. It might not help me find love, but it will allow me to enjoy fall apples without injury.
More fall fun:
Victorian Greeting Cards for Autumn Holidays
A brief history of trick or treating
5 women that make great Victorian Halloween costumes
I couldn’t picture snap apple, so I went looking for a video- fun/dangerous looking! https://youtu.be/9CpFmRMvRhw