Samhain: Scottish Halloween

Posted by Dale Townshend on October 31, 2007 in News tagged with

Halloween promises overindulgence in sweets, dressing up as your favourite superhero and spooky stories. However,  the Scottish Samhain was a very different festival. This festival celebrated the Celtic New Year and final harvest and may also give surprising clues to the origins of many modern Halloween traditions.

The bonfire may have originated from burning the bones of the last cattle slaughtered before winter on the bone-fire.






The burning of the Wickerman is also said to occur on Samhain. See the terryfying cult film of the same name.










The lurid orange pumpkin Jack O’Lantern began as a carved turnip or tumshie.






Trick or Treating began as Guising where children dress up in disguise wearing tattered clothes, or masks (or now ghosts and spiderman).  The children would then go to neighbours’ houses to perform a song or dance for a penny or some dried fruit. The children could also ‘dook’ for apples in pails of water.






Oh, and forget the pumpkin pie, why not opt for some fortune-telling curly kale!

"In Scotland, young people went blindfolded into the garden to pull kale stalks; later, before the crackling fireplace, the plants would be "read" for revealing signs of the future wife or husband–short and stunted, tall and healthy, withered and old, and so on. The amount of earth clinging to the root was believed to indicate the amount of dowry or fortune the player could expect from a mate. The stlaks were then hung above the door in a row, and each subsequent Halloween visitor was assigned the identity of a vegetable-spouse in turn. Cabbages and leeks were similarly used."
Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, David J. Skal [Bloomsbury:New York] 2002 (p. 29)

Happy Halloween! 

Tiny URL for this post: