The Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples has dwindled over the years, and this might be partially due to hygiene concerns. In times past, it was an extremely important event that brought families together. In the history of bobbing for apples, we see how a simple tradition can reveal vital aspects of the societies it entertained.
The Apple Goddess Pomona
After much of the Celtic territory was captured by the Romans, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain blended with the Roman festival of Feralia. It is likely that this mix inspired the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples.
On the second day of Feralia, Pomona was honored. Pomona is the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is the apple.
The Wise Apple
In addition to being the goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona was also a fertility goddess. The Celts believed in the pentagram as an important fertility symbol. As the seeds in the apple form a pentagram shape when cut in half, it was believed that during the mystical Halloween season, the apple could predict future marriages.
Bobbing for Apples
In Scotland, bobbing for apples can be referred to as “dooking.” In some parts of Ireland, it is known as “snap apple.” In Newfoundland and Labrador, “Snap Apple Night” is synonomous with “Halloween.”
During the annual apple-bobbing festivities, young people would try and bite into apples either floating on water or hanging from a string. It was thought that the first person to bite into an apple would be the next to marry.
The Historical Context of Bobbing for Apples
What is important to remember is that prior to large-scale urbanisation, most people were spread out over large areas. Life was hard and so was travel. Children often did not make it into adulthood. Without a sufficient number of children for labor, families would perish due to cold, starvation and disease. As a result, fertility and marriage were extremely important for immediate survival, as well as the continuance of family blood lines.
The festivity of bobbing for apples was an event that brought families from far away farms and villages together. If it was not for traditions like these, most of these people would never have the opportunity to meet. In this aspect, bobbing for apples was more than a simplistic tradition as it was one that carried the power to alter the lives and futures of entire families and subsequent generations.