Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Scottish Halloween

It’s almost that time of year again, when little ghosts and ghouls and witches are prowling the streets hoping to take home a huge bag of goodies from indulgent neighbours. We called it going out in ‘goloshans’ when I was a child, although that seems to be a Celtic word unique to the part of Scotland in which I grew up. Most people call it ‘guising’ these days, and my own children (when young)  carried on the tradition of getting dressed up to go round the nearest houses, complete with a bag for the expected nuts and sweets, and a rhyme or joke to make sure they got some!
We only learned about ‘trick or treat’ from watching American films and I’m quite sure some children have now adopted this expression. Our Halloween activities used to be on a much smaller scale and the only requirement for some treat or other was that the child should be dressed up and should perform the aforementioned rhyme or whatever talent they possessed. I’ve heard some great songs from children. The other main activity was dookin’ for apples. A large basin containing apples was filled with water and the apples set whirling around by hand. There were two ways to retrieve an apple: you could either kneel on the floor, hands behind the back, and try to grab an apple with your teeth – great fun and very wet! Or you could kneel over a chair and drop a fork into the water to try and spear an apple.
Our ‘jack o’ lanterns’ were carved out of large turnips, rather than the pumpkins that are now available in most supermarkets. Another treat for children was toffee apples which they carried on a stick – very messy and not so good for the teeth, but delicious once the hard toffee gave way to the juicy fruit.  Halloween is also the ancient Celtic Samhain, the night on which the souls of the dead can cross between the two worlds, and I’ve written a story inspired by this darker celebration. But for this more light hearted post, I’ll finish with the little rhyme I wrote many years ago for my own children to recite to neighbours to ensure they brought back a large haul of nuts and sweets!
Witches and wizards, broomsticks and bats,
wild hair and face paints, long pokey hats.
Turnip face lanterns, eerie and bright,
lighting the way on this dark scary night.
Ghosties and ghouls in the streets can be seen,
But there’s no need to fear for it’s just Halloween!
Dangerous Deceit, Champagne Books and Amazon


Allison said...

Love the little poem. And I've heard about the turnip lanterns.
What I want to know is, when did that custom start? How far back does it go?

Anonymous said...

Boy do I miss the years I'd take my kids out for witches night. They were so damn excited and even after a 10 hour day at work I loved watching them interact with the other little ghosts and goulies in the neighbor. What a gift kids are.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

January Bain said...


What a lovely blog and poem! Thanks for a sweet moment in time.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Great poem. Turnip lanterns, those are new to this Yank. Thanks for sharing your culture and your talents.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Allison. I think turnip lanterns are all tied up with the ancient Celtic traditions around this time. The jack o' lantern was originally inspired by Ignis Fatuus, a will o' the wisp type of flame that led people astray. There's even a mention of that in Shakespeare's Henry 1V.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I know what you mean, Mike - there was a lovely innocence in those days when our children enjoyed dressing up.

Thanks, January!

Thank you, Julie - I wasn't sure how many people might have heard of our turnip lanterns! Pumpkins are more available here now, of course and are easier to carve, but I miss the old turnip lanterns.

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

Wonderful blog! And like several had said, miss when we had wee ones to bring 'round. One of us gets pics via cell phone of their grandkids but it is just not the same. Thanks for sharing, it was grand

Jude Johnson said...

Finally got to see your post, Rosemary. Firefox was not liking The Writers Vineyard this week.

Loved reading about "dookin' for apples"--which we called "bobbing" where I grew up. This week the Southwest and Mexico celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Technically it was All Souls' Day, yesterday, and a ton of people had filled the huge cemetery we pass on our way home from work. The celebration continues through Sunday, when Tucson holds its "All Souls Procession". You can read more about it ""

Thanks for sharing this with us, Rosemary. It's wonderful to glimpse into other countries and cultures.