Telling the future with apples

We look at a Czech Christmas tradition
22 December 2020

Interview with 

Olga Löblová, University of Cambridge


A red apple in a tree


 With a new year on the horizon, Adam Murphy's been finding out about Czech tradition that looks towards the year ahead, with the help of Olga Löblová, from the University of Cambridge...

Adam - There’s lots of weird ways to tell the future, in Ancient Rome, there were augurs, people who would look at the formation of birds to give omens. There are oneiromancers, people who look to dreams for clues, or omphalomancy, which claims to tell you how many children a woman will have looking at her navel.

In the Czech Republic, they’ve a simpler, and perhaps more fun Christmas tradition about telling the future, with some apples, as Olga Löblová tells us

Olga - In Czechia we have a lot of traditional activities that often aim at predicting what will happen in the year ahead. For example, you take an apple and cut it in half on Christmas Eve, but not along the vertical axis, like you’d normally do, but horizontally, and take a look at the core.

Adam - We’ve a similar thing in Ireland at Hallowe’en. If you find the coin in the bread loaf, the bairn brack, you’ll have a prosperous year….provided you don’t choke. So what do the apples mean.

Olga - If you see a star, it means the coming year will be full of health. If you see a worm or the apple is rotten inside, there’ll be illness and disease. And if you see a cross, it means someone will die.

Adam - Oh dear. Let’s hope no crosses then. Scientifically, there’s not a lot to the idea of divination. We can predict some things, if you drop that apple, it will fall. And it could hit some unsuspecting physicist on the head for example, but in general, it falls flat. You just have to watch a weather forecast to see how unreliable the future can be.

There was once an idea called Laplace’s Demon, that if you had a magical demon who knew where everything was, and where it was going, it could run the clock forward and predict everything. But then Quantum Mechanics, which is based on probability.

So even the nicest Christmas traditions can’t predict the future. But maybe that’s okay. We can take the future into our own hands and make this Christmas merry, and make the next year, better than this one.


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