Scottish Halloween Traditions – check out our guide

1. The Gaelic Roots 

Samhuinn acknowledged the onset of winter and marked the time of year when the harvest was finished. It is one of the 4 Gaelic festivals  (Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh being the others). Cattle would be brought down from the summer pastures and kept at lower levels for winter (or slaughtered). Offerings were made and the boundary between the living and dead was thought to be the thinnest.

Celtic Design

2. Guising

With spirits rising from the dead, kids were dressed up to disGUISE themselves. The more dead-like the better. They would be sent round to collect offerings. Over time this developed into doing a party turn – a poem, story or joke that would amuse and in return kids were given offerings. We don’t want to start an international flame war, but isn’t this better than trick or treat?

Picture of someone dressed up for Halloween

3. Turnip / Pumpkin carving

To keep out bad spirits,  kids would carve out turnip which is hellishy hard. As people emigrated to America and Canada and took their traditions with them this developed into pumpkin carving. This was really a great idea as it’s much easier to do, however as this has become more popular the UK alone will use around 18,000 tons of pumpkins at Halloween. Much of them are wasted afterwards, which seems criminal given that it could feed the entire nation. So if you don’t want to waste yours follow this recipe from the Independent.

Carved turnip

4. Bonfires

Bonfires also kept away bad spirits. Sometimes cattle were taken between two bonfires to keep them healthy throughout the winter. At times, only certain wood could be used, however, this has changed over the years and any flammable material seems to be fair game to be used. NB to the people who put a sofa on the one we attended to last year, it’s really not a good idea.

Picture of a bonfire

5. Burns poem – Halloween

Not everything in life comes back to Robert Burns, but it’s nice when we can shoehorn in the Bard. Burns poem Halloween goes through many of the rituals associated, including Kale Pulling. Yes, the veggie that comes in organic boxes that you’re not too sure what to use it for (actually they make great Kale chips, but that’s another story) is included in the poem. On Halloween you can go and pull up a kale plant and the length of the roots will show you how tall your partner will be and the soil on the roots would determine the wealth of them. You can check out the poem here

6. You’re NUTS, baby

Tradition has it that engaged couples can throw nuts into the fire to find out how compatible they will be. If the nuts make no noise then all will be harmonious. If they crackle and spit then there will be fireworks. When you are reading all these old traditions, you can sometimes see how they make sense. Fire to ward off evil spirits, offerings to have enough food for winter, but how did anyone ever come up with chucking nuts into a fire and determining future compatibility based on it? Answers on an e-postcard please, best answer gets two free tickets to a regular ceilidh at Cecil Sharp House.

Pic of nuts

7. Catholic Church

The Catholic Church moved All Saints Day to the 1st November. This was to celebrate Saints that did not have a day dedicated to them (since pagans were already celebrating this day, it was a good move). The mass said on that day was known as Allhallowmas and the night before was known as All Hallows Eve which became Halloween. 

A cross

8. Dookin’ for Apples

A great favourite party game for watching the kids get wet and happy. Put some apples into a basin of water, tie the hands behind their backs and watch them get very wet trying to get the apples out. There are two versions, one where you go in with yer gnashers and the other where you hold a fork between your teeth.


9. The Cat Sith

Number nine in Scottish Halloween Traditions is the Cat Sith. This is the fairy creature that is found in the highlands. You need to leave out a saucer of milk for this wee beastie as if you don’t your cattle will be cursed – don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

cat eyes

10. Other stuff

Perthshire: We’re just checking but we think that the offering to the Celtic Goddess Cailleach still goes on. Stones are placed in the small hut, deep in Glen Lyon, Perthshire in the belief that, as long as they are there, then Cailleach will look after the Glen. Tradition has it that she was cared for by people in the Glen. Every year the stones are placed inside the hut for the winter and brought out again for the summer on the 1st May (Beltane). This is believed to be the oldest uninterrupted Celtic tradition. 


Cape Breton: Food plays a big part in the eating of Fuarag. This is a large plate of oatmeal (shock) and cream. Into it would be placed a coin, a ring and a button. Those who got the coin in their meal would get riches, those with a ring would get married and those who receive the button would get nothing. Not the cheeriest if you are on the receiving end of that one.  

One of the things that interests us here at the Ceilidh Club is how traditions change and develop over time. Yes, it is good to keep the spirit and customs of the past alive, but they also need to adapt to modern life, without losing their integrity. So we’ll be going out guising, we’ll carve (small) pumpkins which we’ll eat afterwards and we’ll think about those who have gone before us and hope we’ll not be joining them anytime soon. 



We hope that you’ve enjoyed our guide to Scottish Halloween Traditions. Do you us know if you have any others…..

Buy Tickets