Traditional Samhain Games


Earlier I wrote briefly about the importance of apples on Samhain and mentioned the classic game of bobbing for apples, of how the game is symbolic of journeying over the waves to the Otherworld, the Isle of Apples.  Well, here is another apple game…

Snap Apple (also known as Hanch Apple)
In the older version of this game (which was played outside), two sticks were tied together to form an equal armed cross and was hung from the middle (horizontally) on a string from the branch of a tree or from a barn rafter or barn door.  Apples were pushed into two ends of the stick and candles were pushed into the other two stick ends and lit.  The cross was set spinning and the player tried to take a bite of an apple without getting a mouth full of hot wax and fire!  Whereas apple bobbing was ordeal by water, this was ordeal by fire. 
In the modern version of this game, marshmallows dipped in sticky peanut butter are used instead of candles, so the risk is getting messy, not getting burned.
Another version of this game, one in which I remember playing as a kid, is simply trying (with hands behind one’s back) to take a bite of apple that’s suspended from a string.

Here are a couple more Samhain games that involved fire:
A lit taper is passed around the room from player to player, while these words are recited:
“Jack’s alive and likely to live.  If he dies in your hand, you’ve a forfeit to give.”
The object of the game is to not be the person holding the taper when the flame goes out.  The forfeit was usually to sing a song or recite a poem.
Another, perhaps older, version of this game is “The Priest’s Cat”.  It is played with a branch that has a glowing ember on the end from the bonfire.  As it was passes around, these words were chanted:
“About wi’ that, about wi’ that.  Keep alive the priest’s cat.”
As with the other game, the object was to not be the person holding the stick when the ember stopped glowing.

Snap Dragon
This game is a Christmas tradition in England, but in played at Halloween in the U.S.  Heat a large flat metal plate until very warm, but not hot enough to burn when you touch it and place it on a heat proof surface in the middle of a table.  Place 4 or 5 snapdragon (or regular) raisins on the plate per player.  Other dried fruits and almonds can be used as well.  Pour brandy over it and set it aflame.
Players snatch out as many raisins as they dare out of the blue flames and pop them into their mouths.
There’s a chant that goes along with the game, though it refers to the game being played at Christmas, not Halloween (the game was also sometimes played with a plum pudding in the center of the bowl/plate at Christmas):

“Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don’t he mean to take his toll,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don’t take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
But Old Christmas makes him come,
Though he looks so fee! fa! fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Don’t ‘ee fear him but be bold —
Out he goes his flames are cold,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!”
-Robert Chambers’ Book of Days
Snapdragon Raisins
2 ¼ cups seedless raisins
2 tablespoons finely sliced ginger
1 ½ cups brandy

Layer raisins and ginger in a sterilized jar and pour in brandy, covering the top.  Pack down the raisins and ginger, pressing out any air.  Seal tightly and store in a cool dark place.  They are best if left set a couple of weeks, and should stay good for about a year.  Use in baking, as a dessert topping, and for playing snapdragon.


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