History of Bobbing for Apples
The history of bobbing for apples has its roots in the Roman Festival of Pomona, which was brought to Britain by the Romans after they conquered the Celtic inhabitants. The story of bobbing for apples is a story of survival.
The origin of bobbing for apples began with the invasion of Britain by the Romans. When the Romans conquered and controlled most of Britain from 43 A.D. until 410 A.D., they discovered that the Celtic people, who inhabited what is now Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England, celebrated the end of summer and the collecting and storing of the summer harvest with a feast known as the "Feast of Samhain", with Samhain meaning "summer's end" in Gaelic. This feast and its associated customs took place on November 1st, the first day of the Celtic New Year. The evening before this feast was also associated with the Samhain festival and also had its own customs. The evening before Samhain was a time of blurred distinctions between the past, present, and future, a time when distinctions between the living and the dead were at their narrowest. For the Celts, it was a time of magic. Therefore, on the eve of the Celtic New Year, the Celts had the belief that one could discover one's future for the upcoming year based on creating methods - later in history to be transformed into games - of diving the future.
What does the above have to do with the history of bobbing for apples? Stay with us, it's brilliant. The history of bobbing for apples is connected with the Celtic belief in divining the future. When the Romans conquered and controlled most of Britain, they also wanted to spread Roman customs and traditions. When they saw the Samhain festival of the Celtic people, they craftily blended the Roman festival of Pomona and its associated customs with the Samhain festival and its associated customs, including the customs that were performed on the evening prior to the Samhain festival, the evening of October 31st.
So again, what does the above have to do with bobbing for apples? Well, the Roman Festival of Pomona was a festival in honor of the Roman Goddess Pomona, the Goddess of the Orchards, including the fruit trees. Pomona was thought to be extremely beautiful and was also very fertile; therefore, she was a symbol of fertility. The apple was thought to be symbolic of Pomona and hence, the orchards and fruit trees in the orchards. The Romans integrated the apple into the harvest festival of Samhain, the latter which would later become known as Halloween.
The Celts believed that the pentagram symbol was a symbol of fertility and this belief happened to coincide with the fact that when one slices open an apple, its seeds form a pentagram. So the Celts took this to mean that the use of the apple was an ideal method to foretell and determine who would and would not be married in the upcoming year. So methods (later on in history to be secularized as games) such as bobbing for apples were created to foretell the future in the case of determining marriages in the upcoming year. From this developed the Halloween custom of bobbing for apples. Today, in the evening of October 31st, on Halloween, a large pail or bowl is either filled with water and apples or apples are tied onto a string and young unmarried people try to bite into the apple. The goal is to be the first one to bite into the apple since based on the fortune-telling symbolism of the apple, it is believed that the first one to bite into the apple will be the next person to marry.
What was the importance of bobbing for apples?
Although it appears as a harmless game, bobbing for apples in ancient Celtic times in Britain was actually a matter of life or death. Since life expectancy back then was low, the game of bobbing for apples helped to bring many young people together from rural villages, towns, and farms who would not otherwise have met each other. Based on this limited life expectancy, it was extremely important for young people to get married as soon as possible and have a large amount of children so that the children would help their parents on the farm in helping to grow food and therefore survive. Thus, marriage and fertility were interconnected with survival.
Today, bobbing for apples does not have the importance that it once did. Instead, it has become a Halloween game that is played by people of all ages. It is interesting and ironic to know that a simple game played on Halloween evening has its roots in a people's survival.
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