An Old Scottish Halloween

Updated on November 27, 2018

Childhood Memories

There is nothing more nostalgic than remembering our childhoods. We remember all the main events of the year - summer and school holidays, birthdays, Christmas and of course Halloween.

Celebrating Halloween a long time ago, it wasn't possible to go to the shops and buy colourful, sparkly costumes and accessories or pumpkins. However, thinking back my sisters and I and our friends had just as much fun as the kids do today.

Scotland, late 1960's - turnips were used to create jack-o-lanterns rather than pumpkins.
Scotland, late 1960's - turnips were used to create jack-o-lanterns rather than pumpkins. | Source
A traditional Irish turnip or Jack-o-lantern from the early 20th century.
A traditional Irish turnip or Jack-o-lantern from the early 20th century. | Source

Old Halloween Traditions


Our Halloween costumes were basically made up of adults old clothes - there wasn't any ready made, sparkling costumes nor scary accessories back in my village in the late 1960's or early 70's.

Most of the kids in the street would come to the party, with each family taking it turns each year to be the hosts. The year I describe was the time for my family to host the party.

Our home-made apparel consisted of old working coats, work man boots, mum's or gran's old high heels, vintage yellowing, lace petticoats; glamorous, twinkly dresses, old floppy hats and huge old dark coats. I say that the dresses were 'glamorous' and for a 6 year old, my Mum's dresses that she used to wear to dances were beautiful.

If any of the mums had old lipsticks, face powder or rouge then we were given this to paint our faces - the results as you can imagine were bizarre!

One Halloween I wore a blue sparkly dress - one of Mum's old ones - and had blue and white Christmas tinsel in my hair with an old black coat for a cloak. With a little make-up on I thought I was a very beautiful good witch - until a boy I knew crossly told me that 'you didn't get good witches at Halloween'. I literally wasn't a very 'good' witch since, when Mum had her back turned, I gave his arm a nasty nip for being so rude!

Turnip heads instead of pumpkins:

Instead of pumpkins we used turnips. The local shop would often put the best shaped and largest turnips aside specifically for Halloween.

Turnips (called 'neeps' in Scotland) were picked, scraped out, shaped and a candle placed inside. Other areas of the UK also used turnips at Halloween, for example Northern England.

Today the pumpkin is more common as many in the UK have picked up on the American tradition. I have to say that I think the pumpkins with their bright orange colour do look less scary than many of the greyish-purple heads of the turnips.


On Halloween Mum placed tissue paper decorations of different colours sculpted into witches, spiders, black cats, the moon and stars and placed them around the room. Two carved out turnips had been placed on tables in the far corners of our sitting room. With candles placed inside the heads and the lights low, the effect was stunning. To be honest the turnip heads gave me the creeps!

To make things just a little spookier she would use her small bedroom lamp that gave off a slightly purple/lilac colour. This would be placed on a table in between the turnip heads and behind the water filled tub that contained floating apples. The effect was eerily magnificent. The lights from the turnips in particular created spectral looking reflections on the water surface.

We were all set to celebrate Halloween!

One of the dares at Halloween was when it got dark someone was chosen to walk on their own at least 12 paces in through the cemetery gates.
One of the dares at Halloween was when it got dark someone was chosen to walk on their own at least 12 paces in through the cemetery gates. | Source
The wardrobe in our old council flat was much darker and less ornate than the one in the image. However, the size and shape are identical.
The wardrobe in our old council flat was much darker and less ornate than the one in the image. However, the size and shape are identical. | Source

Halloween Games And Dares

One of the earliest games played at Halloween was that of grabbing a scone, covered in treacle.

The scones would be suspended from the ceiling with your hands tied behind your back. The object was to try and either take a bite out of the scone or grab a whole one. Since treacle was continually dripping down, it was nearly impossible not have sticky hair and face by the time you were finished. I can't remember ever catching a whole scone on my own, but was delighted when one of the older lads who lived on our street, kindly lifted me up so I could at least grab a bite.

Next on the party agenda was 'dookin/dooking' for apples. Depending on where you live it may be called 'ducking', 'duck apple', 'bobbing for apples'. Many people are of course familiar with this Halloween game, but where did it come from? Apple dookin may have its origins in Celtic times since the apple was sacred to these tribes. However, other sources say that apple bobbing was introduced by the Romans when they invaded Britain.

I remember my Mum using an old plastic baby bath to dook for apples and I can't ever recall being successful at catching one. What I do remember though was how cold the water was! We lived in old council flats that were freezing even in the summer! I never was that successful at dookin but my older sister always managed to get at least three.

After the games it was time for the children to either sing, recite a poem or perform a dance. My younger sister and I sang a verse from a Robert Burns song - despite my best efforts I can't recall what one it was! After you had finished we were both handed a goody bag - this was usually filled with an apple, an orange and a few sweets.

Sometimes in the house adults would allow us to do dare games, normally however we would do these on our own when the adults were busy with other things. The dares usually comprised of someone being chosen - by short straw for example - and they would have to go alone for instance into a dark coal bunker or a pitch black room, or open a dark cupboard etc.

For our Halloween dare we chose our scary back bedroom. This room was situated at the far side of the flat and only had one, tiny window. Outside stairs, leading up to the family on the floor above us, blocked out most of the light making the room shadowy and creepy.

This eerie bedroom had a very dark, ornate wooden wardrobe. It was really ugly and had a mirror on the inside of one of the doors. Neither my sisters or I liked this wardrobe even during the day and there had been a couple of experiences with it - this of course is another story.

One boy who thought he was brave enough didn't bother with the short straws and volunteered to open the old wardrobe. To his credit he almost made it until the wardrobe suddenly made a loud creaking noise that sent everyone of us scattering in terrified confusion.

Children with their 'guy' in a pushchair ready to tour the streets to ask for 'a penny for the guy'.
Children with their 'guy' in a pushchair ready to tour the streets to ask for 'a penny for the guy'. | Source
Sparklers along with the 'catherine wheel' were my favourite fireworks.
Sparklers along with the 'catherine wheel' were my favourite fireworks. | Source
Children getting ready to put their 'guy' on top of the bonfire.
Children getting ready to put their 'guy' on top of the bonfire. | Source

Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night

What is Guising?

Guising goes back many hundreds of years and basically means 'disguising yourself with costume and a mask'. In past times, children would be dressed up in costumes and masks to hide then from evil spirits and offerings would also be made to them to protect them from evil.

The term 'guising' in relation to Halloween/Guy Fawkes Night was mostly used in Scotland and the North East of England.

A few days before Halloween and afterwards - leading up to the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Night - we would go out guising. This could simply be dressing up in home made costumes and knocking on friends and neighbours doors. If you were asked into the home, then you had to perform either a song, recite a poem, tell a joke etc. It was bad manners to knock on a door and accept fruit or sweets without performing to earn them.

In addition, we sometimes had a dummy dressed in old clothes called a 'guy'. The guy was often made with either straw or old newspaper and shaped into a human figure - and yes some of them did look very creepy.

Wearing your guising costume and placing your 'guy' in an old pram, pushchair, bicycle basket or wheelbarrow we would set off around the streets shouting ' a penny for the guy!' Most adults you came across would be very generous and would offer a penny or two. The money gathered was more often than not spent on sweets at the local shop.

The guy would be kept until the 5th of November, *Guy Fawkes Night - in Scotland it was mostly called 'bonfire night' - the guy would be placed on top of a bonfire and then set alight. There was also fireworks - sparklers and the catherine wheel were my favourites.

*Guy Fawkes commemorates the plot to blow up the houses of parliament in London, by Guy/ Guido Fawkes on 5th November, 1605.

It was usually freezing cold even although we have a large bonfire on the go. It was always a great treat therefore when raw potatoes were thrown onto the bottom of the bonfire and left to cook. We would then eat them roasting hot and they tasted delicious as well as taking the chill away.

I hope you've enjoyed this memories hub and I would love to hear of your own times at Halloween.

Halloween Today

Do you think that Halloween, with all the costumes, props and foods available is becoming too commercial?

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© 2015 Helen Murphy Howell


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hello Frank - always a delight to hear from you and I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub! It's a double bonus to get the thumbs up from such a great writer!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Ann, I understand, there are a lot of people who don't like Halloween at all. To be honest I did love it as a kid, but when I learn about how the Celts celebrated it - giving thanks to their departed loved ones, cleansing their homes and their thoughts for the coming year, does seem a lot more appealing.

    I haven't heard of Bridgwater Carnival - now that sounds spectacular! Hope you have a lovely and evening, and yes, that the rain will stay away.

    Glad you enjoyed the hub and many thanks for stopping by.

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    4 years ago from Shelton

    seeker7 what a wonderful read.... perfect for this time of year and the share was not only educational but entertaining as well awesome...

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    4 years ago from SW England

    Fascinating and interesting memories of your Hallowe'en. I lived in the South of England and never came across Hallowe'en until my teens ('65 onwards). I have nothing against others having fun with it, but I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. I prefer to stick to Bonfire Night and the local Bridgwater Carnival which is great - the largest illuminated night procession in Europe! It's coming up on 7th November so I'm hoping it's a dry evening.

    Thanks for a good read. I like hearing about people's childhood memories.



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