An uninvited guest?

Since Halloween was traditionally thought to be the night when witches and warlocks take to the streets and skies and engage in all sorts of spooky practices, in many parts of Scotland it was customary to leave out an empty chair and a plate of food for any uninvited – and even invisible – guests that may decide to drop by.

Folklore also decreed that All Hallows' Eve was also the night of the year when the souls of the dead were set free to roam. It was believed the undead would get peckish and pop round for a bite to eat…hence the need to leave out a good feed.

The witching hour just before midnight was the time the dead would return to earth, ending as the chimes of midnight rang out.

Pagan origins

The ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest season and the start of winter or the "darker half", was celebrated for 24 hours on October 31 is believed by many to be the origin of many of the traditions later associated with Halloween.

As part of this, offerings were left for the Sith – the fairies – to encourage them to protect livestock over the winter. It's also believed people dressed up and went from door to door, often reciting verses in exchange for food, while feasts were also enjoyed, at which the souls of the dead were beckoned to attend.

These days, Samhain is still an important part of the pagan calendar and there are a number of celebrations planned for this year, including the Spooks and Sacrifice event at the excellent Scottish Crannog Centre by Loch Tay, which includes storytelling round the fire and dramatic flaming torches. Visit for more information.

Fires and neep lanterns

They say smell is the sense most closely linked to memory, and for many Scots of a certain age nothing says Halloween more than the aroma of burning turnip.

Anyone under the age of 25 may be unaware that pumpkins weren't always the lantern of choice, no matter what American movies (which arguably pinched all Scotland's Halloween traditions and sold them back to us) may say.

But until the late 1990s it was torturous hours spent scooping out raw neeps with spoons that kept parents and children busy in the lead-up to Halloween. No doubt as many wonky smiles were carved as spoons were broken before the candles were inserted and lit.

The lantern tradition was originally linked to the creation of fires, either big or small, to ward off malevolent spirits and dark entities before the dawning of All Saints Day.

And although we won't see – or smell – many turnip lanterns this Halloween, there will likely be glowing pumpkins in their droves. And, since they're much easier to carve than neeps, that's no bad thing at all.

Guising or 'galoshin'

"Do you want any guisers?" was what we used to say as we knocked the doors of our neighbours, resplendent in our home-made Halloween costumes with a repertoire of jokes, songs and skits all ready to be performed.

If your performance was any good (and even when it wasn't), you'd likely come home laden with sweets, fruit, nuts and maybe even a few quid if you were particularly lucky.

This Halloween it will be cries of "trick or treat!" that will fill the streets, as the aforementioned American influence continues, but there no doubt be far more treats than tricks.

The folklore behind this most essential – and fun – Halloween tradition goes back hundreds of years to painting the faces of children to evoke evil spirits, or disguising them in old clothes to hide them from the spooks.

Galoshins, meanwhile, was the name given to guisers who performed in mummers, the winter folk plays performed from the medieval times onwards, and later picked up to describe those who dress up at Halloween.

The spookiest bard

As every Robert Burns aficionado will know, Halloween plays a key role in one of the Bard's most famous works, the glorious Tam O' Shanter, written in 1790, which tells the tale of the drunken Ayrshire farmer who meets witches, warlocks and the devil himself on a stormy Halloween night.

In celebration of this, one of the key locations in the poem, Ayr, has created a five-day festival mixing the literary and historic with the fun, spooky and entertaining.

Tamfest 2017, which runs this Friday to Wednesday, plays host to an array of events including walking tours, workshops and markets.

This year's live entertainment includes performances from Still Game favourites Jane McCarry and Mark Cox (aka Isa and Tam), and Scots X-Factor star Emily Middlemiss. For more information, visit to

Dooking for apples

The premise behind this childhood Halloween party staple is simple. Fill a sink or a large basin with water and drop the apples in. Players must then try to catch one with their teeth (or spear it by dropping a fork from your mouth). Hands are kept firmly behind the back to prevent any cheating.

Less fun is when someone decides to push your head under "as a joke" and you end up a spluttering mess having inhaled a lungful of water. Always make sure you have a big bath towel handy to help keep your mum's good carpet dry.

There are several theories about the origins of dooking for apples. Some believe that it dates back to the Roman invasion of Britain when the conquering army merged their own celebrations to honour Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards, with traditional Celtic festivals.

Another suggestion is that its roots stem from medieval times when so-called witches were "ducked" into water to determine their innocence by whether they floated or not.

In later centuries, dooking – also known as bobbing for apples – evolved into a courting ritual among young women and their would-be beaus. Each apple had a mark and the aim would be to bite into the one that represented the partner she desired.

If it only took her one try, the couple were destined for romance. Succeed with her second attempt, he would court her, but their love would fade. If it took three tries, the relationship was doomed.

A related superstition suggested that by putting the dooking apple beneath a pillow before you went to sleep, your soulmate would appear in dreams that night. Seems legit.

Treacle scones

The no-hands rule goes for this one too. In short, treacle-covered scones are hung from string and blindfolded participants must attempt to take a bite. Cue faces (and hair) covered in sugary, tar-like gunk. Hours of good old-fashioned sticky fun, particularly if you throw in some fiendish jangling of the line.

Nut burning

Who needs Valentine's Day when you have the heady, romance-fuelled customs of Halloween? Find out if true love will last by throwing some nuts on the fire. (Oh, behave …)

According to tradition, a single woman would select a hazelnut to represent each of her potential love interests. If one nut burned away to ashes, rather than popping amid the heat of the flames, that would denote the identity of her soon-to-be husband.

Engaged couples would carry out a similar ritual, each tossing a nut into an open fire. If said nuts quietly smouldered that promised a smooth union. Hiss and crackle? Prepare for a tumultuous ride.

Kail and cabbage

Another classic rite involved kail being pulled from the ground after dark. The idea was that the length and shape of the stalk would resemble your future partner's height and figure, while any lingering soil on the plant was an indication of wealth.

There is a reference to both nuts and kail in the 1785 Robert Burns poem Halloween which talks of the merry, friendly country folk that convened to "burn their nits, an' pou their stocks".

A similar notion involved a woman walking backwards into a cabbage patch. The stalk of the chosen plant again reputedly provided a clue: gnarled meant an old husband, smooth signified a young one, while little or no stalk decreed that there wouldn't be a marriage at all. It definitely beats Tinder.

Sausage rolls

A clause of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 is said have forbidden the eating of pork or pastries on Halloween. Cast-iron fact or tongue-in-cheek folklore? We'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Although, as we are never ones to pass up the opportunity for a sausage roll, it came as sweet relief to find the Act itself was repealed in the early 1950s.