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The Celtic festival Samhain is one of the four quarter festivals.
In Gaelic it is Samhuinn which means hallow tide or season, the feast of
all-souls. The souls of all the dead are said to be free on that day,
1st November. 1st November was the first day of the Celtic new year and
the transition between old and new year was believed to set free evil
spirits which would visit your house.
Halloween is actually the night before where lanterns (Gaelic: samhnag), Hallowfires and such are supposed to scare the souls that will emerge at midnight, away from your house. Samhuinn is also used in Gaelic for the entire month of November. The name "Samhain" entered Canadian folklore as "Sam Hain", the name of the guy doll which children would wheel round.
Halloween customs in Scotland these days consist chiefly of children going
door to door "guising" (or "Galoshin" on the south bank of the lower Clyde)
dressing up and offering entertainment of various sorts in return for gifts.
The Witchcraft Act of 1735 contained a clause preventing the consumption
of pork and pastry comestibles on Halloween although these days sausage
rolls seem to a popular treat for children - the act was repealed in
The children are invariably dressed up as something supernatural or spooky and the entertainment usually consists of singing, telling a poem or joke etc. They don't 'trick' you if you do not give, as in America. However, after the showing of ET in the early 80s, the influence of American "trick or treating" seems to have become more prevelant at least in England. Hollowed out turnips with candles in them are sometimes displayed or carried. Note that many children in America do not 'trick' either.
Halloween parties often consisted of various games, for instance 'Dooking fur aiples' where the children had to bite apples floating in a basin of water, once they had one by the teeth they could retreive and obtain it. Sometimes flour would be sprinkled on the surface of the water.
For younger children a more modern game is 'Forkin fur aiples', an easier
task, where the children stood on a chair and held a fork handle in their
teeth, taking aim, they would release it into the basin of apples
and water and retreive and keep any apple they so skewered. Another game
was 'treacle scones' where children had to eat a scone covered in treacle
hanging on a piece of string.
One custom associated with Halloween in the Western Isles was to put two
large nuts in the fire. These were supposed to represent yourself and your
intended spouse. If the nuts jumped together when they warmed up then this
was deemed to be a good omen, but if they jumped apart then it was time to
look for someone else!
See [12.15] for further details of Halloween customs - some of these
migrated from the Celtic hogmanay of 31 October to the modern hogmanay
of 31 December with the change from the Celtic calander to the modern
calendar. However, according to Brewster's Dictionary of Folklore which
is on line, 'guiser' was a Scottish Mummer at Christmas time, so this
is one tradition that has gone in the other direction i.e. from
yuletide to Halloween.
The story of Halloween
Recommended further reading:
Tocher 7 (Autumn 1972) P201-207, P220
Tocher 15 (Autumn 1974) P241, P257
Published by the School of Scottish Studies, see [12.2]
See also "Halloween", a poem by Robert Burns (written 1785)
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