“Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.”
(Excerpt from the poem Halloween, by Robert Burns)
As Halloween is today, Sunday, Oct. 31, you might be surprised to learn that many Halloween traditions that delight children today have their roots in ancient Scotland.
Halloween originally comes from the Celtic Festival Samhain; meaning summer’s end in Gaelic.
The end of October was believed by people in ancient Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to be when the veil between the everyday waking world and the spirit world was the thinnest.
Children would go ‘galoshin’ which involved covering their faces in black soot and dressing in old clothes to disguise themselves from the spirits as they moved about the village.
In this spooky guise, they would visit neighbours’ houses to perform tricks in exchange for treats.
Other uniquely Scottish Halloween traditions were carving neeps lanterns, dookin for apples, and burning nits.
Neeps Lanterns were like today’s Jack-O-Lanterns but carved from turnips, which were more plentiful in Scotland than pumpkins.
These ghoulish glowing faces placed at the front door were protection against the dark spirits roaming the streets.
Dookin for apples was a more light-hearted game for the village children.
They would try to retrieve apples from a tub of water while blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs.
For young couples excited to learn what form their future love life might take, burning nits or chestnuts was a favourite practice.
If the nuts you threw in the fire burned quietly, you would have a peaceful marriage.
However, if they cracked and popped loudly, it was likely you were in for a rocky road with your new partner.
In 1785 Robert Burns wrote an epic poem themed around Halloween traditions in Scotland.
You need to be quite fluent in old Scottish to read and understand all his verses.
If you do parse through it, you will uncover many fascinating, frightening and even funny Halloween traditions that are uniquely Scottish.
Consider giving it a peruse if you want to add some new old traditions to this year’s Halloween fun.
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Submitted by the Okanagan Military Tattoo from its October 2021 newsletter; reprinted with permission
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