Bobbing for apples has been an autumn tradition for hundreds of years. Despite its presence at Halloween parties and festivals today, however, its origins are more rooted in love and romance than tricks and treats. In fact, it began as a British courting ritual, popular among young ladies and their potential beaus. There were several variations of game: In one set of rules, each apple was assigned to a potential mate. The bobber would then attempt to bite into the apple named for the young man she desired. If it only took her one try, they were destined for romance. If she succeeded with her second attempt, he would court her but their love would fade. If it took three tries, their relationship was doomed. Another approach to the game was a race to be the first to bite an apple; the first to emerge successful would be the first to marry. A related superstition suggested that if a girl put the apple she had bitten underneath her pillow, she would see her future soul mate in her dreams that night.
Eventually, the game declined in popularity, and by the 1800s, it was common only in Ireland and certain areas of England. At the end of the century, though, Americans exploring their immigrant roots decided to bring back this Celtic fall tradition as a game for both children and adults at Halloween parties. Today, some parents may keep their kids away from the tub of apples for fear of spreading germs, but bobbing for apples is a comparatively safe tradition when compared to another old apple-centric Halloween pastime: Snap Apple. In the game of Snap Apple, an apple was speared on one end of a stick while a lit candle was fixed at the other end. The stick was spun around, and the participants’ goal was to take a bite of the apple, avoiding a face full of hot candle wax—definitely not a game to play with kids!