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.”
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.
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.