Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The Roman origins of a Halloween tradition

Throughout the world, apple-bobbing is a popular Halloween tradition. Apples are placed floating in a barrel full of water and participants take it in turns to try and retrieve them using only their teeth. It may be an international game, but the origins are very Italian.

When the Romans conquered Britain, they brought with them apple trees, representing Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. It was believed that Pomona brought fertility – a belief re-enforced by the Celts due the shape of a pentagram you get when you slice an apple in half. Thus a game was created where apples were placed in water and players competed to try and retrieve one by mouth.

The first person to bite an apple, it was believed, would be next to marry and bear children. When young girls retrieved an apple, they would place it under their pillow and dream of their future partner, though one hopes the apple dried out, rather than going moldy, because they were often in for quite a wait. The coinciding of apple season with Halloween, made it inevitable the two would become intertwined.