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A British Halloween

Updated on October 22, 2017

Halloween Fun

Bobbing Apples is a long standing tradition on 31st October in Great Britain. The tradition dates back to Roman times. I wanted to discover where the tradition of apple bobbing comes from and why apple bobbing became an important part of Halloween celebrations throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Its certainly a long standing family tradition for me, bobbing apples, toffee apples and jam tarts.

Pomona, a Roman fertility Goddess, the significance of the number five and of course how to play "Bob the Apple" are all connected to the Great British tradition of Halloween.

There is much debate about which is the best apple to use for apple bobbing with diameter, average mouth size and weight all crucial to the equation.

Toffee apples are my favourite thing for Bonfire night on the 5th Novemeber but we also used to have them on Halloween as well as hot dog with onions and jam tarts.

Picture Credit


Did the Ancient Britons celebrate Halloween?

Samhain was celebrated in Celtic Britain

Before the Romans arrived in Britain, the Celts celebrated Samhain. Samhain, pronounced sow-in marked the end of the harvest and the "lighter half" of the year and the beginning of the "darker half" of the year. It also represented the death of the summer god, Lugh. Bonfires were a major feature of the celebration. The flames from the fire were believed to warm good spirits and keep evil spirits away. It was also tradition to put the bones of dead animals on the fire which is where the word bonfire is thought to originate.

Who is Pomona

Pomona is a Roman fertility Goddess

The apple tree was brought to Great Britain by the Romans. Pomona was the Goddess of orchards, gardens and fruit trees and the apple was a representation of her. Pomona comes from the Latin pomum meaning fruit. Although the Romans had conquered Britain, they were accepting of the beliefs of other cultures. The Samhain festival was accepted by the Roman invaders and the apple became part of the harvest celebration which would later become what we now call Halloween.

Apple Pentagram
Apple Pentagram

What about the number five?

The Pentagram in the apple

When you slice into an apple, the seeds form a pentagram. The Celts believed that a pentagram was a sign of fertility and they believed that slicing into the apple could determine who would be the next to marry. The game "bobbing for apples" is derived from this tradition. Participants would be unmarried and would try to bite into an apple floating in a tub of water or hanging from string. The first one to do it would be the next to marry.

Marriage and fertility were important in Celtic Britain as very few people lived through their childhoods. Not having children would mean there would not be enough labour to work the land. People needed to have children in order to survive which is why the apple and the "duck the apple" game became such an important part of the harvest celebration.

Amayodruid photo credit

Bobbing Apples
Bobbing Apples

How to Bob The Apple

The traditional duck the apple game

The traditional way to play "Bob The Apple" is by trying to bite into the apples that are floating in a tub of water. Don't forget to remove the apple stalks!

You will need:

1 large tub (filled with water)

Several apples (small soft apples make the game easier)

Contestants prepared to get wet

Towels for drying face

The contestants can take it in turn to play or if the tub is large enough, everybody can duck under the water at the same time. The winner is the first person to emerge from the water with the apple between their teeth. To make the game more interesting you can also have "special prize" apples and forfeits for players who fail to retrieve an apple.

The rules are that you must keep your hands behind your back and only use your mouth to seize the fruit. Photo Credit

Do you Bob?

Do you still do this tradition on Halloween?

See results

Have Fun Bobbing For Apples

Bob Apples
Bob Apples

A hygienic alternative to having the apples "bobbing" in a tub of water is to tie them to string and hang them. The participants must then attempt to get hold of an apple using there mouth. An alternative to this is to use donuts instead of apples, especially if you are struggling for people to take part!

Photo Credit:

Do you play Bob The Apple on Halloween?

Is bobbing the apple popular on Halloween all over the world or just in the UK? Do you play it in the traditional way, apples in a tub of water or do you tie the apples and hang them? Please let us know!

Do you bob the apple or do you tie the apples to string and play that way

Toffee Apples

How to make toffee apples

Toffee Apple Recipe

8 Granny Smith Apples

400 g Golden Caster Sugar

1 tsp vinegar

4 tbsp golden syrup

1.Place the apples in a bowl and cover with boiling water. After about 30 seconds, remove the apples from the water and dry with a towel. This process removes the waxy coating of the apples and helps the toffee to stick. Put a lollipop stick onto each apple and place onto non stick baking parchment.

2.Put the sugar in a pan with 100 ml of boiling water. When the sugar is completely dissolved, add the vinegar and syrup. The mixture should then be heated to a temperature of 140 degrees centigrade. If you do not have a thermometer the best way to check that the toffee is ready is to drizzle a small amount into cold water. It should harden straight away and be easy to break. If it is still soft, the temperature is not high enough.

3.When the toffee is ready, coat each apple with the mixture, working quickly so that the toffee mixture does not thicken and become difficult to use. Place onto the baking parchment and allow to harden, this takes up to a couple of hours.

The apples can be made several days in advance and are a great way of keeping the kids quiet whilst you prepare for your hallowe'en party.

Halloween, love it or hate it?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      A good find for Halloween fun. Love Simpsons, The Shining and Toffee Apples.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      It's fun to do for Halloween!

    • DuaneJ profile image

      DuaneJ 5 years ago

      Informative and fun lens!