Boo season: the romantic origins of Halloween

 As Halloween night draws ever nearer, our annual spooky rituals begin to get underway as we race to dust off our devil horns, delving into the depths of our wardrobes in a desperate bid to find any semblance of last-minute costume inspiration before a night full of tricks and treats.  Scary stories are shared, and pumpkins are carved to the sound of Monster Mash on a constant repeat.

Yet, amidst the modern-day hauntings and jump scares of Halloween as we know it, it is almost impossible to believe that the history of our favourite spooky holiday has its origins in romance. Today, Halloween provides an excuse to play dress-up for all ages and binge on bat-shaped chocolates while watching Tim Burton classics, however the spectacle of Halloween originated over 2000 years ago in the U.K. as a Celtic celebration of the end of the summer period and the beginning of a much colder and darker half of the year. In the 18th Century, many traditional Halloween games were based around these Celtic celebrations marking the end of the harvest period before winter, resulting in the association of apples with the Halloween festivities that we still follow today with apple bobbing games.   

In Diane Arkins’ book detailing the romantic origins of Halloween celebrations, Arkins draws a comparison between the popular Halloween game of bobbing for apples with the more traditional game ‘Snap Apple’. Unlike apple bobbing, ‘Snap Apple’ participants bit apples from a suspended string with the first to do so being the first to marry. Some later variations of the game added to the love drama by writing the names of unmarried participants on each of the apples. The person who was named on the apple was said to be the person who the player would make the best marriage match with.  The game proved so popular that it is reported that Halloween was often referred to as ‘Snap Apple Night’. Other Halloween games using apples involved participants peeling an apple and tossing the peel over their shoulder to display the first initial of their future lover, or alternatively eating an apple in front of a mirror in the hopes of conjuring an image of their soulmate who would appear to ask for the last bite. The use of apples in Halloween games not only symbolises Celtic harvest celebrations, but is a fruit often associated with attraction and desire from the Biblical story of Eden, further linking these long-forgotten Halloween customs with the idea of finding love.  

Other traditional Halloween customs relied on superstition and fortune-telling rites where friends would gather together in parlours and have their futures foretold in the hopes of seeing a successful romance on the cards. Especially at a time when finding a suitable partner for marriage and establishing a family were paramount to social success, these Halloween customs provided an opportunity to move one step closer towards the relationship of their dreams for those who observed these seasonal festivities.

 Amongst these forgotten fortune-telling romance rituals at Halloween, hazelnuts also took centre stage in 18th Century love predictions. Single ladies would often write the names of potential suitors on hazelnuts on Halloween night and throw them into the fire. The nut that burned fully rather than cracking or popping was said to indicate their perfect marriage match.

These love-finding rituals associated with the 31st of October seemed to fade during the early 20th Century in the wake of decreasing superstition and shifting relationship ideals, creating a more liberal and contemporary view on the significance of marriage within contemporary society. Today, Halloween simply provides the perfect excuse to come together with friends amid the increasingly shorter days and darker nights that accompany the looming winter months ahead. Although you might not find yourself having your fortune foretold in burning hazelnuts, perhaps true love will remain on the cards for you this Halloween night after all.



Featured image: Matheus Bertelli via Pexels

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