Understanding Hallowe’en traditions in Scotland

October 12, 2022

The CHT Community Hallowe’en Party is an important event in our calendar as an opportunity to get together after summer and the first term of a new school year. We look forward to welcoming everyone to our party very soon and celebrating some of our own traditions.

For many in our community, Hallowe’en is a fun time of year. Deciding on a costume (maybe even making one?), stocking up on treats, practicing jokes or tricks… there can be lots to do. Our favourite shows might have spooky editions and, from Casper the ghost to horror films for over 15’s, there is plenty to entertain us in the weeks ahead, as well as the special edition sweets and cakes to snack on!

We know that not everyone is a Hallowe’en enthusiast. You might not like disguises, or performing, or watching things that are designed to make you scared and that’s ok. You don’t have to take part in Hallowe’en. Nothing takes the fun out of something quite like ‘having’ to do it.

Understanding why we have Hallowe’en in Scotland and its history will help you makes sense of the traditions (and it might be good knowledge to share on the doorsteps while guising for an extra treat). Some customs stretch as far back as the 16th century.

The history of Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en takes its name from All Hallow’s Eve and is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, an event in the Pagan calendar marking the end of harvest and the start of winter. Scots thought that it was the night when spirits of the dead roamed their land and took measures to protect themselves from the restless dead. Turnips, or neeps, were carved into lanterns with spooky faces to scare the spirits away. They lit candles and fires as light was thought to scare spirits and fires were considered cleansing. People ‘disguised’ themselves in masks and cloaks to look like ghouls so as not to stand out amongst the unearthly visitors, which is where the word ‘guising’ comes from. The tradition to visit doors is to receive sweet treats from householders who are keen to avoid a nasty trick from visiting spirits.

Celebrations also included feasts and games such as apple dooking and eating treacle scones without using hands. Other traditions included fortune-telling through games such as hiding prophetic items in a fruit cake – a coin or ring means good fortune and wealth, a pea means you will be unlucky in love, a thimble is a sign of spinsterhood and cloth rags demote misery and strife. Another game was for couples to throw two chestnuts into a fire, if they burned quietly to ash it was a sign of a good partnership, but if they spluttered and hissed, trouble lay ahead.

Halloween at Carolina House Trust in 1927.
Hallowe’en at Carolina House in 1927

CHT Community

We have our own games planned for the CHT Hallowe’en Party and we are looking forward to seeing a number of mysterious creatures come through our doors for treats. We also don’t mind if people want to come as themselves – our events are planned to bring people together and provide a community for our carers and children and young people.

Hallowe’en links