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Halloween Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear

Halloween Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear

by Diane Arkins

The artful blend of informative narrative, old-fashioned poems, prose, and chants with eye-catching images of vintage ephemera and fanciful illustrations.


The artful blend of informative narrative, old-fashioned poems, prose, and chants with eye-catching images of vintage ephemera and fanciful illustrations.

Product Details

Pelican Publishing Company, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



If you have ducked for apples and have an apple won, Your duties have not ended—indeed they've just begun. That apple must be hidden, beneath your pillow white, And then you'll see your sweetheart in your dreams that mystic night. Another superstition tells a girl the fruit to eat, As she combs her hair at midnight, if she would her true love meet. He will gaze into her mirror where his image will be found, But for fear that he will vanish, she must NEVER LOOK AROUND?
The Jolly Hallowe'en Book, 1937

    Which came first, the romantic's curious nature or the fortune-teller's clairvoyant powers? Puzzles like this can make inquirers' heads spin, but when it comes to old-fashioned Halloween fortune-telling rituals, one thing is clear: apples have played a prominent role from the very start.

    The apple has been regarded a potent symbol of love and fertility dating back to the days of ancient Rome when harvest celebrations held around the first of November were dedicated to Pomona, the Goddess of Orchards, Seeds, and Crops and, over time, they have proven to be a soothsaying fruit of amazing versatility.

* * *


We'll hang an apple and bite it by turns And thus find an answer that everyone learns Now, this is not magic, so don't feel alarm For I have the answer and you have the charm. Verse from old Halloween postcard
* * *

    The popular party game of "Snap Apple" made a lively contribution to early-twentieth-century Halloween celebrations. A most basic version of this old English stunt required participants to use their teeth to capture an apple from amongst those gaily suspended from the ceiling by sturdy ribbons or string. The first to successfully perform this feat would be the first to marry.

    Harper's Bazaar described a more daring version of this fortune-telling stunt in 1907:

"There was much merriment over the whirling stick. Upon one end of this an apple was impaled; upon the other stood a lighted candle. A string was attached near the apple, and the stick suspended from the ceiling, balanced so that it hung horizontally. It was then set whirling and players, hands still bound behind, were each given a few minutes' turn to try for a bite out of the apple's fat cheek. Around and around whirled the stick, so rapidly that the candle flame brushed noses and chins in the sauciest manner."

Anyone able to meet this substantial challenge was destined to find happiness involving affairs of the heart. Those who encountered the candle were, unsurprisingly, fated to experience misfortune ... along with the possibility of singed eyebrows!

* * *


Pare an apple, take the skin, And fling it straight behind you; Whatever letter it may frame, That will begin your true love's name, And (s)he will surely find you.
Bright Ideas for Hallowe'en, 1920

* * *


With a sharp knife pare an apple Round and round and round. Toss the paring o'er your shoulder— The initial found Will be of the one you'll marry— Do not be afraid! 'Tis an old prophetic omen Good for man or maid. The Jolly Hallowe'en Book, 1937

* * *

    In the mystic shadow of All Hallow's Eve, skillful apple paring could be employed to reveal clues about the identity of one's future mate. The lovelorn maiden who practiced this charm would pare her apple into a single continuous length and then toss the peeling over her shoulder. The shape in which it landed was believed to form her sweetheart's first initial. To strengthen such prophesies, fortune-seekers could repeat inspirational rhymes like this:

By this magic paring I wish to discover, The first letter of the name of my true lover. Three times round with movement slow, Then upon the floor lie low; Show me, if you know the same, The letter of my true love's name.

    If fate played a cruel trick and no letter could be identified from the peeling, it was interpreted as a sign that the inquirer would not marry. Thankfully, misfortune-telling of such a disappointing nature could slyly be sidestepped: "This trick positively cannot fail," was the advice endorsed on one turn-of-the-century postcard. "The peeling falls in such peculiar shapes, any bright girl can make out whatever initial she chooses."

* * *

WE'RE TELLING OUR FORTUNES (an apple-paring song)

We're telling our fortunes, Our secrets with you we share. For charms work like magic on Hallowe'en night, There's always a spell in the air. Who shall it be? How shall I know? O'er the right shoulder our parings we throw. Then his initial will come into sight, O there's a charm in the Hallowe'en night, A charm in the Hallowe'en night. We're telling our fortunes, Come join in the fun, Now pick out your apple and see ... Just who you will wed e'er this old year is done, And who your knight errant will be. Who shall it be? How shall we know? O'er the right shoulder our parings we throw. Then his initial will come into sight. O there's a charm in the Hallowe'en night, A charm in the Hallowe'en night. Hallowe'en Frolic, 1908

* * *

    One explanation regarding the origin of bobbing for apples traces the custom to the ancient Celtic belief that an enchanted Island of Apples might be reached by water's passage. In any case, revelers at Halloween parties of yesteryear eagerly responded to calls of "Hands behind your back! Use your teeth. Bob for your fortune underneath" and tried to snatch floating fruits bearing the names of their sweethearts.

    The task was fraught with hurdles, as buoyant pippins dipped to evade capture. The Delineator magazine described the merry antics in its October 1894 issue:

"The (gents) set to work 'bobbing' for the elusive red apples floating upon the water that filled the tub to the brim. The apples had a most exasperating faculty of slipping away at the merest touch, so that when one persistent young man succeeded in grasping an apple firmly between his teeth, he merited (his fortune)."

    An apple caught on the very first attempt represented a true love that would be returned in kind. Those captured on subsequent tries represented fickleness or, ultimately, a sign from Fate to target a different suitor. The apple prizes could then either be placed beneath their captors' pillows—to inspire sweet dreams of a lover, naturally!—or cut open, their seeds counted to telling rhymes like these:

One seed, a journey,
Two seeds, a wealth.
Three seeds, true love,
Four seeds, health.
Five seeds, a quarrel.
Six seeds, fame.
Seven seeds, betrothal.
Eight, a new name.
Nine seeds, travel,
Ten seeds, a ring.
Eleven seeds a fortune,
To you will bring.

The Giant Hallowe'en Book, 1934


One shows an enemy;
Two, a new friend;
Three, your luck is going to mend.
Four, a short sickness;
Five, some new clothes;
Six, a pleasant journey shows.
Seven, a lovers' quarrel;
Eight says twice you'll wed;
Nine, a long life before you're dead.
Ten, you'll be happy;
Eleven, riches galore;
Twelve says of children you'll have four.
Thirteen brings honor;
Fourteen, a good name;
Fifteen brings you political fame.

Hallowe'en Merrymakers, 1930

    Alternatively, the seeds from an apple could be placed on the palm of one hand and the number remaining after the hands were clapped together could be interpreted as follows:

One I love,
Two I love,
Three I love, I say;
Four I love with all my heart;
Five I cast away.
Six he loves,
Seven she loves,
Eight they both love;
Nine he comes,
Ten he tarries,
Eleven he courts and
Twelve he marries.
Thirteen, they quarrel; fourteen they part;
Fifteen, they die with a broken heart.
Sixteen, wishes; seventeen, riches;
All the rest are little witches (children).

Spooky Hallowe'en Entertainments, 1923

    Or, several seeds could be designated to represent different suitors and then placed upon forehead, eyelids, or cheeks. The seed that remained in place the longest was said to signal the identity of the future mate. Those familiar with this augury, however, knew that fate might be "influenced" with a sly wriggle of the nose.

    The bounty of novel apple-related divinations did not end here by any means, and when the night was ripe with mystery and magic, intrepid romantics were advised to coax the fates with rituals like these:

    • Eat an apple in front of a mirror on Halloween and an image of your true love will appear in the mirror to ask for the last bite.

    • Cut open an apple on Halloween night and learn your fortune by this rhyme:

One seed shows you'll get a letter,
Two a dish you're going to break.
Three seeds, you'll hear some good news,
Four, a ride you soon will take.
Five, you will be disappointed,
Six, you're going to meet a friend.
Seven brings you a surprise,
Eight, some money you will spend.
Nine shows there's pleasure coming,
Ten, you'll have something to wear.
Eleven, you will take a trip,
Twelve, some good luck you will share.
Thirteen seeds, you'll have a fright,
Fourteen, your future days are bright.

Kiddies' Hallowe'en Book, 1931

    • Slice an apple in half and examine the seeds within. If only two are round, they portend an early marriage. Three signal a legacy; four, great wealth; five, a sea voyage; six, great fame as an orator or singer; seven, possession of an item most desired.

* * *


The wind was east—fast fell the snow;
We said; "'Tis a stormy night,"
And crowded to the hearth-fire's glow
That shone so warm and bright;
With rosy fruit each hand was filled
From the home orchard near,
When suddenly the laugh was still,—
"We'll count the seeds," I hear.

'Tis one, "he loves"—that's Nettle Day;
"Two," "three," he loves the same,
For Willie "five," he casts away;
Rob's "four" his heart will claim;
Then "six, he loves," and "seven, loves she;"
Ah! "both love!" now shouts Jim
As he the lucky "eight" can see,
An omen good for him.

Then "nine, he comes," the door bell rings,
And Doris sets a chair
For one whose coming welcome brings,
Who joins the revel there;
Ah! "ten, he tarries,"—Jeanie's lot,
But in her heart she knows
The one she named has ne'er forgot,
However fortune goes.
"Eleven, he courts,"—the apple's heart
Alone, fair Edith knows,
For Phil, beside her, gives a start,
And lacks his calm repose,
For "twelve he marries" fair and straight
His apple's seeds they view;
He whispers, "I believe in fate,
Dear, if that fate be you."

Annie L. Jack, Good Housekeeping,
January 8, 1887

* * *

    • Take two apple seeds and designate one "riches," the other "poverty." Stick them on your eyelids; the one that remains there longest foretells your fate.

    • Cut open an apple. Put its seeds between your hands and clap once. Count those remaining afterward to reveal your fate:

One I love,
Two I love,
Three I love, I say;
Four I love with all my heart;
Five I cast away.
Six he loves,
Seven she loves,
Eight he comes to woo.
Nine he tarries,
Ten he marries,
And that's my fortune true.

Hallowe'en Happenings, 1921

    • Count the seeds of an apple to this rhyme to learn the vocation of your future mate:

Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief;
Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief.

Rich girl, poor girl, pretty girl, brunette;
Sweet girl, neat girl, lazy girl, coquette.

The last seed decides your fate.

    • Place three apple seeds pointing toward you, side by side, on a hot stove. Name one seed Toil, another Ease, the third Travel. The one that remains closest to you after the heat makes them jump reveals your lot in life.

    • Halve an apple and match the number of seeds it contains with these fortunes:

One, a letter shall appear,
Two, you'll meet a friend who's dear;
Three, you're going to be miffed,
Four, you'll soon receive a gift.
Five, you'll have a glad surprise,
Six, something lost will meet your eyes;
Seven brings you a holiday,
Eight brings company from away;
Nine, you take a trip somewhere,
Ten, you'll have a love affair.
Eleven, you will quarrel and part,
Twelve, you'll for the altar start.
Thirteen brings you joy and health,
Fourteen brings a bag of wealth.

Spooky Hallowe'en Entertainments, 1923

Meet the Author

Diane C. Arkins graduated with a B.S. in journalism from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. She first published feature stories at age nineteen in Seventeen, Co-Ed, and Woman's Day magazines. She has also been a contributing editor for Country Accents magazine and writes regularly for several national magazines. Arkins's other titles include Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear, Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear Postcard Book, and Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food, and Frolics from Halloweens Past, all published by Pelican.

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