One of my earliest memories of Halloween involves a metal tub filled with water, white smoke coiling up from it like a low-lying fog. I’m dressed as a witch. My wig is long and messy, and black make-up is smearing off my face.
In Washington, fall is harvest time, and fresh-pressed apple cider is a common pleasure. This Halloween, the apples are floating atop the water like little ships, bobbing up and down as the water is displaced by children dunking their heads into the tub.
It’s my turn.
I try to open my eyes underwater, but all I can see are dark fuzzy shapes. I arch my back and sink further into the tub. My costume is sopping wet, clinging to my skin. As the firm skin of an apple brushes against my face, I lean in.
Moments later, I stand, the apple clutched between my teeth, water sloughing off like dead weight.
Apple bobbing is a game most often associated with Halloween.
In apple bobbing, apples are dumped into a tub of water. They float on the surface, suspended due to a difference in weight. The rules are simple: people must retrieve the apples without using their hands. Some rules allow for players to grab the apples by their stem; others require them to chomp down on the apple itself.
Lore surrounds apple bobbing. The game is connected to divination, as many old party games are. A girl who grabs an apple can place the fruit under to pillow to dream of her true love.
Murder novelist Agatha Christie once wrote a novel in which apple bobbing played a sinister role. The victim of Hallowe’en Party is a poor girl who drowns in an apple bobbing tub.
Lately, this Orbit gum commercial has been airing during primetime:
Talk about a scary Halloween!