A British Halloween
I’ve come to hate Halloween with the adoption of American traditions such as Trick or Treat. If you have children you will find it hard to fight against, but perhaps reintroducing some of our own traditions will help.
Ever popular with children is Apple Bobbing and indeed apples feature in many Halloween traditions. Also perpetually popular is sitting around a fire telling ghost stories.
Fires were lit to ward off evil spirits and, thus protected from harm, people believed that the ghosts could help foretell the future. Nuts might be thrown into the fire – if a nut burnt brightly it meant that the thrower would still be alive in twelve months’ time. If it flared up suddenly, it foretold marriage within that twelve months.
The most common question put to ghosts concerned future marital prospects. Apple pips could be thrown on the fire in the same way as nuts with the name of the loved one being said as the pips were thrown. If they were lively as they burnt, spluttering and popping, it meant the love was returned, but if they burnt silently this was not a good sign.
There were several other ways that apples were used to foretell romantic prospects. One involved peeling an apple in one long piece – the length of peel predicting the length of life remaining. Women who wished to predict who they would marry would then throw the peel over their left shoulder – the form it took was meant to spell out the first initial of their future husband. If a woman had more than one potential lover in mind as her future husband, she could stick apple pips to her face – one for each lover. The pip that remained stuck for the longest would foretell who would remain most true. Another method was to cut an apple into nine pieces then, at midnight on 31st October, begin eating the pieces whilst looking into a mirror. When she got to the ninth piece, rather than eating it, it was thrown over her left shoulder and the face of her future lover was then supposed to appear in the mirror.
Cakes or puddings were made which contained fortune telling charms:
A coin for wealth
A pea for poverty
A button for a bachelor
A thimble for a spinster
A wishbone for your heart’s desire
That someone’s fortune was so bound up with marriage seems very old-fashioned and some charms, such as the matchstick, which predicted that your husband would beat you, have thankfully disappeared. Nonetheless I remember buying Halloween Brack in Dublin, finding a wedding ring and thinking how much more pleasant this was than trick or treating.