12 of Scotland's unique Halloween traditions - and their origins

If you've been guising or carved a turnip lantern, then you'll have celebrated Halloween in Scotland - but what are the origins of these traditions?

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL

Children and adults alike are looking forward to another night of fancy-dress at the end of the month, with many continuing customs that originated in Scotland in Medieval times. Traditionally held from sunset on 31 October, Samhain was believed to be a time where the boundaries between the real world and the other world of witches, fairies and ghouls were at their weakest. As undead souls were believed to roam freely on the 31st, Scots would leave an empty chair and food on the table to pacify any potential nocturnal visitors. From ancient folklore to more modern traditions, we take a look at celebrating Halloween in Scotland.

Halloween, or Samhain, was one of the two great fire festivals of the Celtic calendar and traditionally marked the beginning of the new year. Hallow fires would be kindled to mark the end of the harvest and the return of animals.
During Samhain, children across Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries would go guising in old clothes or even disguised as evil spirits in an attempt to remain incognito should any evil ghouls happen upon them.
Guising children would be offered treats such as nuts or apples after singing a song or reading a poem at their neighbours door. It was thought that this would help them repel any troublesome spirits. Now they usually get sweets.
Cabbage stalks were often turned into a form of pipe on Halloween for bundering. Boys and young men would go door-to-door with the hollowed out pipes, which would be packed with kindling, and blow smoke into homes to purify them.
For single women to find out about potential love interests, Halloween was the night to do it. Traditionally they would burn a hazelnut - to represent a suitor - if it burned to ashes rather than popping, then a wedding may be on the horizon.
The Celtic water spirit Shoney was gifted a pot of ale on Halloween to bestow blessings on the local fisherman. Reports suggest that people on the Isle of Lewis would gather on the beach to witness this tradition.
The Scottish custom of Dookin fur apples references the fruit that the Druids held sacred. Children who take part have their hands tied behind their backs and have to retrieve apples from a basin of water using their mouths.
With witches feared to be at full power at Halloween, there was only one place for them - the fire. Boys are said to have gone door-to-door asking for a peat to burn the witch.
A traditional game on a Scottish Halloween - and much harder than it sounds. It was fair play to get as messy as possible trying to catch the dripping scone in your mouth.
For reasons still unknown, in 1735 a clause in the Witchcraft Act banned the eating of pork or pastries on Halloween. This ban was lifted in the 50s.
The tattie bogles - a form of potato scarecrow or neep lantern - have now been largely replaced by pumpkins. The carved candlelit decorations are not far from the original idea of mounting skulls on poles to scare evil spirits.
Fuarag is a Halloween tradition that consisted of objects being placed in a bowl of raw oatmeal, cream and sugar and each guest given a spoon to take some. The objects discovered were used to tell the persons future.