Traditional Halloween Party Games and Activities

halloween pumpkins
Halloween Pumpkins, Image Courtesy of Luigi Diamanti,

Most traditional Halloween fortune telling games used apples, candle wax and other materials to make predictions about love, marriage, wealth and other future events. Today many people are reviving these traditions to bring a sense of magic to their Halloween parties.

Bobbing for Apples

Apples were such a powerful symbol in ancient times that the paradise of Celtic mythology, Avalon, literally means Apple-land. The apple is linked with both the Celtic festivals that gave rise to Halloween celebrations and the Roman goddess Pomona, who later became associated with Halloween.

To bob for apples requires only a large tub or bucket filled with water and plenty of apples. During the Victorian era, it was believed that the first to catch an apple in her teeth would be the first to marry, or that after she snagged an apple, the first name spoken in her presence would be that of her future spouse. Sometimes Victorian hosts would insert charms into the apples, each predicting a different fortune. For example, capturing an apple with a coin in it would mean future wealth. A creative host could come up with many different types of fortune telling charms.

Halloween Dumb Cake

To make a Halloween Dumb Cake, each guest drops a handful of flour onto a wax paper sheet. Next, each guest picks up as much salt as he or she can hold between thumb and forefinger and sprinkles it on the flour. The host stirs the mixture thoroughly with a little bit of water to make a stiff dough, hides a ring in the dough, and again mixes it up. He or she packs the dough into a small round bowl, then upends the bowl and removes it to reveal the round “cake.” Each guest cuts a slice of the cake and whoever gets the slice with the ring will be the next to marry. Additional symbolic fortune telling charms can be used to predict things other than marriage.

According to the Nevada Observer, the original dumb cakes were made without water and baked by the fire soon after 11 p.m. Participants used a pin to mark their names around the cake’s edge and then had to remain completely silent (hence the name “Dumb Cake”) until after midnight. It was believed that the future husband of the maiden first to be married would show up and touch the portion of the cake on which her name had been carved.

Apple Peel Fortune Telling

In the 1800s, hosts in America and Europe provided each of their guests with a paring knife and an apple. Guests would peel their apples, aiming to create one long strip without breaking the peel. Then, one by one, they would throw the apple peels over their left shoulders. It was thought that these peels, on landing, would form the initials of the thrower’s future partner.

Blindfolds and Bowls

For this game, hosts provided bowls containing symbolic objects or substances, and one by one guests would be blindfolded, spun around, and led to the bowls, where they chose a bowl by dipping their hands in it. There were a number of different variants of this game. In one, if the bowl was filled with clean water, the guest would marry a person who had never before been married, muddy water indicated that the guest would marry a widower, and an empty bowl meant no marriage prospects at all. The Victorians played an even bleaker variant in which:

    • Earth meant sudden or violent death
    • Water predicted a future shipwreck (or emigration if the person was lucky)
    • A coin predicted wealth
    • A bean portended poverty
    • A ring indicated a wedding soon in the future
    • Stones denoted strength
    • Flower petals portended success
    • Peanuts foretold the number of future children (based on how many nuts in the shell)

Modern hosts will probably want to eliminate the gloomier prospects and focus on the more positive symbols, or perhaps come up with a few creative ones of their own.

Candle Wax

The host provides each guest with a candle and places a large bowl of cold water on the table. Guests light their candles and let them burn until small pools of wax are melted in the hollow around the wick. Each guest quickly drops this wax into the water and blows out his or her candle. The host or one of the guests plays “seer,” interpreting the shape of the wax to make predictions about the guest’s future life. In another variant, the wax shape predicts a future spouse’s career.

Fortune Telling with Apple Seeds

In one variant of this game, the host cuts apples in half and each guest selects a half and counts the seeds.

    • 2 seeds equals early marriage
    • 3 portend a legacy
    • 4 predict wealth
    • 5 indicate a long journey by sea
    • 6 foretell fame
    • 7 mean a wish fulfilled

In another variant, each apple has two ribbons tied around it, with the ribbons arranged so that it’s impossible to tell which apples they lead to. Guests each choose a ribbon and follow it to the apple it’s tied to, so that two guests will be linked with each apple. The host cuts the apples in half and each guest chooses half and counts the seeds. This matchmaking game was associated with rhyming predictive verses, with certain numbers of seeds denoting one-sided love, love on both sides, future marriage, or parting. Hosts should probably be careful with this game, given that guests might have their own complicated relationship dynamics that could make the activity stressful. Making up hilarious seed count futures for the couple might be safer than playing the more serious matchmaking variant.

Most of these Halloween party game ideas have been adapted from A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations, by Lesley Pratt. See this great Halloween resource for costume, decoration, and party ideas.

For free pumpkin carving templates, Halloween recipes, Halloween history, costume ideas, and more, visit the main Halloween page.

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