Samhuinn/Halloween in Scotland


There’s just something about Halloween’s macabre theatricality which never fails to bring out in many.

Massively popular in the US and celebrated to a lesser extent in the UK and other countries in various ‘guises’ or disguises – people are often unaware of the celebration’s strong Scottish connections. With its atmospheric landscape and array of haunted castles, peculiar superstitions and occasionally morbid history, it’s not surprising that Halloween first took root here.

Samhuinn Fire Festival, Edinburgh.png

Samhuinn Fire Festival, Edinburgh.

Halloween or Hallowe’en takes its name from All Hallows’ Eve, the night before the Christian festival of All Hallows or All Saints Day. But it’s possible to trace its beginnings back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (Samhuinn in Gaelic), held on 1 November, which marked the culmination of summer and the harvest period with the onset of winter. Robert Burns’ 1785 poem ‘Halloween details many of the national customs and legends surrounding the festival, many of them pagan in origin, which had persisted even with the advent of Christianity.

The eerie Alloway Kirk in Ayrshire, scene of The Witches Dance in Tam O’ Shanter by Robert Burns.jpg

The eerie Alloway Kirk in Ayrshire, scene of The Witches Dance in Tam O’ Shanter by Robert Burns.

Here are some other old fashioned Samhuinn traditions from Scotland that you might want to incorporate into your own festivities this year:

Fires and ‘neeps lanterns’  To ward off potentially malevolent entities, large bonfires were lit in communities and it is believed that this practice survives today in the tradition of carving pumpkin lanterns with creepy grimaces. While the use of pumpkins is actually an American invention, in Scotland it has been custom to carve lanterns out of ‘neeps’ or turnips.


Carved turnip lanterns.

Guisin or ‘galoshin’ – Instead of trick-or-treating, children would literally disguise themselves as evil spirits by blackening their faces and dressing in old clothes to go guisin. According to folklore, this was so that they could venture out safely without being detected by wicked ghouls. Guisers also couldn’t simply knock on the doors of their neighbours yelling not ‘trick-or-treat’ but rather Please to help the guisers’ and expect sweets in return. They had to perform a ‘trick’ first by reciting a song, poem or joke before being rewarded with goodies.

Dookin’ for apples – A staple of children’s Halloween parties across the country, this time-honoured game involves trying to grab apples floating in a tub of water using your mouth, with your hands tied behind your back. If you want to up the stakes have a go at catching them with a fork.


Apple dookin’,

Treacle scones – Once again with your hands tied, this messy game challenges participants to take a bite out of treacle covered scones hanging from ropes.

Nut burning – Recently engaged? Find out if you and your beloved will live happily ever after. Toss a nut each into an open fire. If they quietly smolder amongst the flames your union will be a good one, but if they hiss and crackle you could be in for a bumpy ride!


Samhain/Halloween is a great excuse to get out to the cemeteries….at night, without appearing to bizarre.

Sausage rolls – The Witchcraft Act of 1735 forbid the consumption of pork pastries on Halloween. It wasn’t repealed until the 1950s and since then sausage rolls have been a popular treat at Halloween parties and gatherings.




2 thoughts on “Samhuinn/Halloween in Scotland

  1. Yay! Finally landed, ride was a tad bumpy, must learn to untangle that parachute a bit better :):) lol..

    Anyway. I hope this note finds you well will, gosh I didn’t realise this site held so much info, its really cool…I noticed some good yummy recipes on here too, right after my heart, although, I’m the worlds fussiest eater by far. I can list 100s of foods I don’t eat as opposed to the ones I do, ah, well, be crazy if we all lived by a sword.!

    Oh, NOOOOoooo…No emojis on here..BIG shock to my system :(:( But its a small thing to manage I guess.

    Omg.. I’m just able to just keep on typing on here, something else I’m not used too..As my mom used to say, I could talk the hind leg off a donkey haha.

    So lovely to see your posts Will, and I’ll drop by daily to have a look around :):)

    Take care, speak again soon.

    Lin :):)

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