Along with the mirror “spell,” apples appeared in many divination games at Halloween parties. Apples are common harvest fruits, and we’re familiar with bobbing for apples, cider, and apple treats eaten in the autumn. But for a time, Halloween was directly associated with apples, even being called “Snap-apple Night” in some parts of England and Scotland. (Morton, 53)
“Snap-apple” itself was a game where players attached one end of a stick to an apple and the other to a burning candle. The whole thing was spun, and the players tried to bite the apple rather than get a mouth full of hot wax. (Morton, 53) Now, some call the game of trying to grab a hanging apple with your mouth “Snap-apple,” but there’s no way that’s as entertaining.
One of the most common Halloween games in the 19th century used apple peels for fortune telling. A young man or woman was to peel an apple and throw the peel on the floor. Then they interpreted the peel’s shape to learn about their future mate, either through letters of initials or shapes resembling suitors.
In most examples, the young woman had to throw it over her shoulder to get the effect.
Other versions seemed more immediate, apparently giving young couples some “instructions” on how to behave.
It’s interesting how often peeled apples and even loose peels appear on the cards even when there’s no mention of lovers or even when depicting children obviously too young to care. Still, the icon was as ubiquitous as pumpkins and spiders are today.
Of course we’re now familiar with bobbing for apples, at the very least from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But many other games involving apples were also popular, some suggesting a fortune-telling aspect and others just for fun.
Morton, Lisa. Trick or treat: A history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.