5 Scottish Halloween Traditions

5 Scottish Halloween Traditions

Many people don’t realise Halloween has ancient roots in Scotland, and a lot of mainstream Halloween traditions originated here. The name Halloween comes from a Scottish shortening of All Hallows’ Eve and has its roots in the Gaelic festival of Samhain. You can read more about this Scottish festival here, in our Celtic holidays you might not have known about blog. Here are our top 5 favourite Scottish Halloween traditions you may not have heard of before.

1.    Apple Dookin’

A familiar family favourite for most Scottish children, apple dookin is an obvious Scottish tradition, but many don’t realise this Celtic tradition has been around for hundreds of years.

For those who have never played before, apple dookin (or dunking if you’re posh) entails without using their hands, grabbing an apple floating in a basin of water. Whilst this is lots of fun, it’s not always practical for Halloween make-up, so players have the option to include forks between their teeth and have a go dropping them into the apples to spear them.

This tradition started back in ancient Scotland with the Celts, who believed that Heaven would be full of apple trees. The game is thought to date back to this belief and the Celtic festival Samhain, marking the beginning of winter on November 1st.

2. Guising

Known in America and more popularly as ‘Trick or Treating” this Halloween activity originated in Scotland, with the Scottish name, Guising. Back in ancient Scotland, the intention behind guising was more sinister than just looking for treats.

Scottish children would dress up and pretend to be evil spirits as they went. It was believed that by doing this, they would blend in with any wandering evil spirits set loose on Halloween and avoids harm from them. This is where the word ‘guising’ comes from, shortened from the word disguise.

It is thought the tradition of singing at the door comes from children singing prayers to households and would be rewarded with gifts or food to help ward off the evil spirits lurking around.

3. Carving Lanterns

In modern times, we carve pumpkins each year for Halloween. This is another tradition that has been derived from ancient Scotland! Originally, the Celts carved neeps (turnips) around Halloween.

Frightening faces were carved into turnips to create lanterns that would scare off ghouls wandering in the witching hours.

It’s thought this tradition started in Ireland and Scottish Highlands in the 18th century, and the act of carving out root vegetables became worldwide famous when Scottish and Irish immigrants moved to countries like Canada and popular. It was around then the pumpkin was chosen to become the mainstream lantern, lovingly nicknamed the Jack-O-Lantern.

4. Kale Pulling

Before kale was popular for smoothies and salads, it was a part of a Scottish Halloween tradition. Kale stalks were used to predict your future love life. Around the time of Halloween, people would wait until night and pull kale stalks from the ground. The length and shape of the stalk were said to represent your future lover’s height and figure, and the amount of soil around the roots represented wealth.

This tradition is featured in Robbie Burns’ famous poem, Halloween.

Some merry, friendly, country-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
An’ haud their Hallowe’en
Fu’ blythe that night…..
(Translation: Some merry, friendly, country people
Together did convene,
To burn their nuts, and pull their plants,
And keep their Halloween
Full blythe that night.)

5. Nut Burning

Couples at Halloween to predict the success of their upcoming marriage used this tradition. Couples would place nuts into a burning fire to watch the reaction of the nuts. If the nuts burned quietly, the union would be a happy one. However, if they hissed and crackled, a turbulent future lay ahead.