There’s no hiding from it, Halloween is fast approaching! Here at The Square Peg we’re stocked up with stretchy rats and hanging toy bats, as they’re always popular at this time of year. And we don’t know about you, but we think that Halloween celebrations seem to be bigger than ever before. The supermarkets are wall to wall with treat sized chocolate bars and buckets of lollies and the fruit and veg aisle is over-run with pumpkins. It’s got us thinking that Halloween is certainly not what it used to be, not in Scotland anyway.
Did you know that Halloween originated in Celtic Britain and Ireland? It originates from Samhain (Summer’s end in Gaelic) with the new year supposed to officially begin on November 1st. During the Samhain festival, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible, with them playing tricks on living humans. It was also thought that the souls of those who had died could return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey onwards. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires and to frighten away any evil spirits, and they often wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognised by the ghosts thought to be there, which is where the tradition of dressing up as witches, ghosts and ghouls has come from.
The change in name came about in the 8th century when the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saints’ Day, a day celebrating the church’s saints, to November 1. This meant that All Hallows’ Eve (Now commonly known as Hallowe’en) fell on October 31st. However, the traditions from Samhain remained, and alongside the dressing up, additional folklore became incorporated such as lantern carving, and guiding or trick or treating.
Around here, we are very proud to say that traditional “Guising” is still going strong! On Halloween night local children will dress up in their costumes and head it out in small groups. They knock on the doors of their neighbours with their “party piece” prepared and are welcomed inside to perform jokes or poems and sing songs. They are rewarded for their efforts with fruit, nuts, sweeties and sometimes even money, but they may have to continue to work for their prize by “dookin’” for an apple!
Displaying a carved pumpkin lantern in your window is good way of letting guisers know that you are home and you’re welcoming visitors, but the initial reason for displaying jack-o-lanterns was actually to ward off any spirits that appear on Halloween. Historically in Scotland and Ireland, it was always a turnip (or neep for short) that was hollowed out and carved with a scary face. You would place a candle inside and leave it outside your house to frighten off an Irish mythical spirit called Stingy Jack. The story goes that Stingy Jack tricked the Devil and therefore when he died, he wasn’t allowed to enter either heaven or hell, meaning his spirit was forever roaming, never allowed to pass on. The reason that everyone now carves pumpkins instead of turnips for their “Jack-o-Lanterns” is not only because it’s much easier, but also because when many Scottish and Irish families emigrated to American shores, they took their traditions with them, but not their turnips! So, pumpkins made a good alternative and now we seem to have adopted the pumpkin too.
We can trace much of the recent evolution of Halloween back to North America, where it is a hugely popular holiday, with homes and gardens extravagantly decorated with pumpkins and Autumnal colours for weeks ahead of the day itself. “Trick or treating” is a popular American tradition that seems to be making its way across the Atlantic along with the pumpkins. Like guising, the children go door to door but simply ask “Trick or Treat?” on the doorstep – implying that should they not be given treats they’ll play tricks on the occupants. (We definitely prefer traditional guising!)
So, whether you’ll be closing the curtains and pretending nobody’s home this October 31st or you’ve already got your pumpkin prepared, we really hope you have a fun Halloween, and maybe even enjoy mixing some of the old traditions with the new!