Medieval Halloween Games
These were games commonly played at Halloween. Halloween is the evening before All Saints' Day (November 1st). It has associations with Samhain, the pre-Christian holiday celebrating the end of summer (Cosman 81). All Saints' Day is dedicated to the memory of all Christian saints, and the following day, November 2nd, is a day of prayer for all the dead. Traditionally, it was believed that spirits of the dead visited the living once more on the night before All Saints' Day (October 31) and that witches and evil spirits were abroad as well (Diehl and Donnelly 12-13). As a result, there are many superstitions and divination rituals associated with this night. Some of these rituals took the form of games or became associated with games, like the games described below. Hunt the Slipper was played at Halloween as well as at Christmas (Cosman 83).
The basic rules of the game were the same as they are today. Apples are put into a large tub of water, and players must try to grab them using just their mouths, with their hands held behind their backs (Cosman 72).
Sometimes, an element of fortune telling was included. A player might assign an apple the name of someone he or she loves. If the player succeeds in getting the apple on the first attempt, their love will be returned in full. If the player gets it on the second try, their love will be returned for a short time only. If the player gets it on the third try, the object of their affection will hate them. If they do not get the apple after that, there will be no hope for a relationship with that person, and the player will have to try again with a different name (Cosman 86).
Because of the popularity of this game, some people called Halloween "Nutcrack Night." It was a divination game that was supposed to predict the future for a pair of lovers. There were two ways to play it. The instructions for both and the text of the rhyme come from Cosman's Medieval Holidays and Festivals, pp. 84-86.
The first method is best for small parties with access to a fireplace. If someone wanted to know what course what their love would take, he or she would put a pair of nuts (either hazelnuts or walnuts would do), still in their shells, onto hot embers in a fireplace and watch happened to them while reciting the following rhyme:
"If he (or she) loves me, pop and fly;
If he (or she) hates me, lie and die."
It wouldn't take long for the heated nuts to break open. If they burst with a loud crack, the lovers truly loved each other, but if they just burned quietly, the love between the two people would fade.
The second method is better at a large party. Instead of using fire to heat the nuts, the players would crack walnuts open with nut crackers and use the shells to determine their future. If most of the shells broke in half evenly, the course of their love would run smoothly. If the shells broke into small pieces, their love wouldn't last.