By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Snap Apple Night:
Have you ever wondered where the traditions and games we often celebrate on Halloween first originated? For example, who thought up bobbing for apples? When and where did that particular game make its chilling debut? Picture the scene. Whilst planning a party to celebrate All Hallows Eve, along with tasty food, music and dancing, ideas are requested for games which might add to the evening’s merriment.
So, naturally, someone (whose name shall go down in infamy) suggests filling a big wooden tub with cold water and apples. Participants are then required to have their hands tied behind their backs, and told to try and grab an apple with their teeth as quickly as possible. Please note the apple must remain firmly affixed between the participant’s teeth as they lift their now drenched head to the delight of onlookers. Sometimes called apple bobbing, it is also known as dooking for apples in Scotland (where it is expected the head be submerged whilst trying to retrieve an apple). In Ireland, the game is known as Snap Apple. In fact, another word for Halloween (especially in County Kerry) is Snap Apple Night.
In the above painting by Daniel Maclise, the Irish artist captured the merriment and festivities of celebrating Snap Apple Night, including the game of snap apple. Maclise painted this piece from memory after attending a Halloween Party in Blarney, Ireland on 31 October 1832. Although young boys are gathered about the tub of water in Maclise’s painting for the ‘fun of it’, there is another connotation associated with the game based on the history of the apple tree, pagan beliefs, and romantic superstition.
In the "romantic" version of the Snap Apple Game, apples were suspended from a string. The same rule of arms being tied behind the back of each participant applied. Allegedly, if you were the first person to bite the apple, you would be the next person to marry. Other customs include being the first person to bite into the apple in which a coin had been hidden; in which case, you would be the first person at the party to sport a broken tooth. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. One can only assume the coins were added as an alternate tangible prize rather than the rather iffy divination that matrimony was in your near future. After all, a young miss might be content with the idea of becoming a bride whereas a young man might prefer the coin.
As for Halloween itself, most of us have heard about the association with the Pagan holiday of Samhain(pronounced sah-win). A medieval Celtic festival, Samhain was considered (and still is by practicing Pagans) the most important day of their calendar. It is, in fact, the Celtic New Year. However, because of the time it took place, October 31st – November 1st, Samhain marked the end of harvesting (with all its blessings) and turned one’s thoughts toward preparing for the dark days of winter ahead. From a more paranormal perspective, Samhain is one of two days in the Pagan calendar (the other is Beltane) when the door to the Celtic Otherworld is opened, allowing souls of the dead to revisit their homes and loved ones. Faerie folk were also believed to cross the threshold from their world into ours.
However, because harmful spirits and mischievous faeries could also enter the mortal world, costumes were often worn in the highlands and isles of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to disguise one’s self and provide protection from harm. Hence, the association between wearing costumes then and now cannot be ignored.
Bonfires were lit to ward off evil. Even the art of carving and lighting pumpkins and turnips can be traced back to Samhain as a means to ward off evil. The practice of “trick or treaters” going door-to-door has been tied to the Samhain traditions whereby boys would go to neighboring homes asking for food and fuel donations for the traditional bonfire. By contributing to this cause, one was certain to have good fortune.
Something is happening every day in Salem during the month of October. The festivities include Haunted Harbor Cruises (offered by Mahi Mahi Cruises) where passengers tour Salem Sound and are entertained with tales of "ruthless pirates, haunted lighthouses and living monsters who wreak havoc on local ships to this day!" The stories may be chilling, but the ship is heated. Other activities include Ghost Hunting Excursions, a variety of Masquerade and Halloween Balls, Psychic Fairs, Ghost Walking Tours, and Trolley Rides that regale after-dark passengers with the spooky history of Salem.
Salem is an enchanting city in daylight, too, with stunning historical architecture, wonderful restaurants, beautiful New England scenery (especially in autumn), and one of the nation's largest museums, the Peabody Essex Museum.
As always, thank you for stopping by Sweethearts of the West blog. ~ AKB