Did Scotland invent Halloween?

Did you know Scotland celebrated Halloween thousands of years ago? Of course, it wasn’t called that back then. Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’) was a Gaelic or Pagan festival marking the end of the harvest season which, of course, fell at the end of October. The name roughly translates as ‘summer’s end’ and the festival was celebrated and mentioned in Celtic literature over two thousand years ago.

Halloween colours – i.e. orange – stem from the fact that the event was originally held to mark the shift in seasons and the arrival of Autumnal colours in the foliage.

Until relatively recently, ‘trick or treat’ was unknown in Scotland. Instead, children dressed up and pretended to be evil spirits and went ‘guising’ (or ‘galoshin’). Children arriving at a house so ‘disguised’ would receive an offering to ward off evil. As well as dressing up, they would also perform a party trick – a song or a dance, or recite a poem, before they were offered a treat which could be fruit, nuts or more commonly nowadays, sweets.

Looking through the pages of the British Newspaper Archive which is available to use for free from all our libraries, we have found some articles that show how Halloween was celebrated across Scotland through the years.

In this article, from the Edinburgh Evening News on 5 November 1874 we know that even Queen Victoria joined in celebrations at Balmoral.
“Celebration of Halloween at Balmoral Castle
Hallowe’en, the observance of which has for some years past fallen into neglect in Scotland, especially in the Lowlands, was celebrated on an extensive scale at Balmoral Castle on Monday night. Preparations had been made for days beforehand and tenants and others assembled on the night named from miles around…
Her Majesty and the Princess Beatrice, each bearing a large torch, drove out in an open phaeton, and a procession, consisting of the servants and tenants on the Royal estates, all carrying lighted torches, was formed. They marched through the grounds and round the Castle – the sight as they moved onwards being very weird and striking.”

Edinburgh Evening News, 5 November 1874

Looking for something to wear? Look no further! Here the Courier and Advertiser advertises children’s party frocks and cloaks for sale at Henderson MacKay’s of Dundee.

The Courier and Advertiser, 25 October 1938

No Halloween party would be complete without ‘dooking’ for apples. There’s not a pumpkin in sight in this photo from the Aberdeen Press and Journal in 1929.

Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1 November 1929

Why don’t you delve into the pages of the British Newspaper Archive and see what you can find. We’ve used articles from Scottish newspapers, but there are millions of pages to explore covering all of Britain and Ireland.

Spooky Halloween Reads

Looking for a spooky read this Halloween? Here are some of our favourite children’s titles! Click on the title to reserve a copy at your local library.

Christopher pumpkin by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Christopher Pumpkin is delighted to be magicked to life by a witch – until he discovers she wants him and the other pumpkins to get her creepy castle ready for the spookiest party ever! Chris just can’t bring himself to hang cobwebs and cook curried slugs – he’s much more into bunting and fairy cakes!

Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire by Francesca Simon
Henry’s class are on a spooky school trip to the local museum, but could there be a terrifying zombie vampire on the loose? Henry soon has his classmates believing Miss Battle-Axe and Miss Lovely might be scarier than they seem. Originally published: as part of Horrid Henry and the zombie vampire.


Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbit
Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. Jake likes to stay out of trouble, usually. But when he opens a strange box containing a severed finger, trouble comes knocking at his door. Literally. Jake has summoned a reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as deadly as it sounds) and his only option is to RUN FOR HIS LIFE! Alone (and a tiny bit scared, to be honest), Jake makes another spooky discovery – he can see and speak to ghosts and, with the help of his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – ancient butler Stiffkey, hockey stick-wielding Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – Jake has one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek refuge. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for.

Mossbelly MacFearsome and the Goblin Army by Alex Gardiner
It’s Halloween, and Roger is yet again pulled into a bonkers adventure with the grouchy dwarf warrior Mossbelly MacFearsome. It turns out that Roger has accidentally set free the vicious Goblin Chief Redcap, who is looking to open an ancient portal back to his own world. Now Roger, Moss and their friends must track him down before he unleashes a mighty horde of goblins hellbent on destruction, mayhem – and pickled onions. But how exactly does one find a ghoulish goblin on the one night of the year when everyone is in spooky fancy dress?

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab
Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake, even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs. When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter – and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger. And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever.

Look out too for the Spooky Reads collection of ebooks and audiobooks on our Kid’s OverDrive site and Halloween Horrors on the Teen OverDrive site.

Classic spooky tales to haunt you FOR EVER

DSCN3891Scare yourself silly this Halloween with these classic tales of horror.

And if you’re an OverDrive e-book user you can download all of these books free via Project Gutenberg – and keep them as long as you like.

Widdershins by Oliver Onions

This collection includes the classic ‘The Beckoning fair one’, widely acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest ghost stories. Highly recommended.

Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu

Got a hankering for top-notch Gothic horror? Lose yourself in this tale that centres on a lady-loving vampire who terrorizes an unsuspecting family in nineteenth-century Austria. Experts say that this novel exerted a significant influence on Bram Stoker when he was preparing to write Dracula.

The turn of the screw by Henry James

A young governess is left in sole charge of two charming orphans. As she begins to see and hear strange things, she grows increasingly uneasy, and is swiftly drawn into a frightening battle against unspeakable evil. Forced to take action, the governess will soon discover terrible consequences.

The Wendigo and The Willows – both by Algernon Blackwood

The preeminent British supernaturalist of the 20th century, Algernon Blackwood combined elements of philosophy and modern psychology to introduce a sophistication to the genre.

The works of Edgar Allen Poe

Tales from the master of Gothic including The Black Cat, The Pit and The Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher and more.

The Lost Stradivarius by John Meade Falkner

Whilst practising in his rooms in Oxford, talented violinist John Maltravers notices a strange phenomenon: whenever a certain air is played, a mysterious presence seems to enter. Becoming increasingly unsettled, he makes a strange discovery…

The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This dark psychological fantasy is more than a moral tale. It is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution and criminality and the secret lives behind Victorian propriety, to create a unique form of urban Gothic.