The grand festival of gore and misrule that is Halloween didn’t used to be a big retail moment in Scotland – more a matter of carving a few neeps and putting a sheet over your head. But October 31 is fast becoming one of the biggest consumer festivals in the UK, third for spending after Christmas and Easter. Our splurge in the UK this year, is set, according to forecasts to reach £320 million, as we descend on the shops for costumes, sweets, decorations, and lovely, lurid, grotesque tat — though we’re still trailing way behind the United States which is predicted to spend an astonishing £7 billion. The result is that there is also a backlash, as there has been over Christmas, against this consumerism - and a rise in people making their own Halloween decorations and costumes. So, as much as there are those who like to splurge on creepy tat [including the vast majority of Sunday Herald staff], you just need to turn to Pinterest and Instagram to find a host of folk who like to show off pictures of Halloween items they have made themselves. And of course there are those who crave a return to Celtic Samhain traditions.

Nevertheless, more and more of us are buying costumes rather than making them, and with supermarkets selling a wide range of outfits, this has become easier than ever. The top costumes this year, according to Google’s search analysis, are predicted to be Wonder Woman, followed by Harley Quinn and a clown outfit: proof that the biggest influence on what we wear at Halloween is Hollywood movies. Donald Trump remains popular, and, pushing over into the realms of bad taste, Harvey Weinstein masks are available. But Halloween hasn’t always been about the big spend. For much of its very Scottish history it was about adapting what you had. As such, it’s a festival with a distinctly split identity, part capitalist excess, and part anarchic, traditional carnival. Here's our guide to how to celebrate Halloween, in both the old ways, and the new.


The correct term, here in Scotland, of course, is ‘guising’, not ‘trick or treating’, though even here we are suffering from the invasion of an Americanised version of Halloween so our streets all too often ring to the call “Trick or Treat!”. The festival which had its origins in Celtic Scotland and Ireland, has gone off like a firework round the world, been commercialised in America and delivered back in altered form to the very people who invented it in the first place.

Despite the modern, commercial spin, the ‘trick or treat’ tradition of getting dressed up and visiting local homes looking for sweets or threatening mischief has its origins in the festival Samhain - the Celtic culture’s celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. And even today, in Scotland, it's still a requirement that those who want their sweets, perform a song or at least a half-hearted knock-knock joke. Guising, in the past, wasn’t a sober affair. A crowd would gather with their carved out neep lanterns, drink alcohol, then hit the town or village, where they would feel the right to enter any house, without knocking, and create mischief by stealing, raiding and making use of what they liked in the home. Robert Burns’s poem Halloween provides a vivid description of the festival from times past, declaring, “What fearfu' pranks ensue!"

Back in past centuries Wonder Woman and Donald Trump costumes wouldn’t have been the order of the day. Rather, the point was to achieve anonymity, mostly accomplished by covering one’s face with soot, flour, a mask, or whatever might be to hand – a pillowcase would suffice. Performances however would be more elaborate than most of the half-hearted jokes that constitute a guising today. A full Galoshin - or Guiser - play might be performed, with lines such as: “Get up, auld wife, and shake your feathers, Dinna think that we are beggars!” Thus would begin a typical performance. “Open your door and let us in, We hope your favour for to win. We're none of your rogueish sort, But come of your noble train. Will you let the guisers act?”

Some 19th century descriptions of guising have boys dressed in “old shirts belonging to their fathers… and mitre-shaped casques [or hats] of brown paper”. Cross-dressing was also common – though not officially approved of. In Elgin in 1598, George Kay was accused of “dancing and guysing” with “his sister’s coat upon him”.

Does all the change mean its lost its spirit? For all the plastic and confectionery, all the consumer overspend, the season still has that edge of mischief and rule-breaking. Marina Warner, author of No Go The Bogeyman, for instance, describes Halloween as a festival which creates “an urban architectural space, a riotous drama in which everyone is an actor: they conjure the spectral and the demonic, introduce puppets and effigies, masks and costumes to represent perennial themes”.


Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, and what seems all too often forgotten in the sugar and plastic over-loaded frenzy that it has become today is that, at its heart, it is about remembering the dead. According to Celtic tradition, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thought to be thin at Halloween, and it is therefore a time when lost relatives and ancestors can pass over and visit. So, set a place for one of your lost relatives at the table, load it with their favourite mince and tatties, or dollop of trifle, and indulge in one of the most powerful Samhain traditions, the Dumb Supper. For this night-time meal, doors are left unlocked, a seat is left empty, and an invitation is made to the lost soul to come and visit.

Many other cultures, of course, honour the dead at this time of year, among them the people of Latin America, who celebrate the Day Of The Dead on November 1 and 2, the Christian All Souls' Day. The last decade saw the festival go mainstream in US culture, and with it a rise in popularity of its decorative skeleton-inspired costumes. Again, the trend reached our shores, and now, through talking about it, children across Scotland are being reminded that this is a time for remember the dead. It always has been - only some of that had been forgotten.


Pumpkin in the window

Kids are often shy, so if you want to make sure they come round to your house guising, you've got to put out a few signs that they are welcome, perhaps a pumpkin in your window or on your doorstep, a few lights and some cobwebs sprinkled around the house. Alternatively just don't clean. This may lead neighbours to believe you have perfected the haunted house look.

Haunt up your house

Better still - go the full hog, get your house decked up like it's your own personal horror film set, and try to persuade your friends that they really do want to be pose for selfies in it eating pink strawberry-flavoured jelly brain. Stuck for decoration inspiration? Head straight to Pinterest where you can find ideas for yarn webs, spooky candles and creepy spider trails.

Dookin for apples

No Halloween party is complete without a thorough wrecking of the guests’ costumes and perfectly-styled vampire hair-dos, otherwise known as dookin for apples – another one of those practices that has its origins in Celtic tradition. Make-up always looks more ghastly when it’s half-smudged and washed off - especially if the wearer has an apple in their mouth. You could even try to beat the world record for dookin - 600 apples in five minutes - though after a few Zombie cocktails this may require supernatural help.

Monster Mash

First, there’s the music, and here you can choose from any number of classic spook tracks depending on whether you’re going for fun horror, or genuinely trying to freak the guests out. For the former there’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Ray Parker Jr's Ghostbusters. For the latter, there’s Marilyn Manson’s This Is Halloween, Bauhaus's Bela Lugosi's Dead and Blue Öyster Cult's (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. For added creepiness, project a classic Halloween movie on the wall, or screen it on your television with the sound turned round. Hard to beat Nosferatu or The Bride Of Frankenstein.

The Witch’s brew

No, beer does not count. This is the one night of the year when you have to get all those weird foreign spirits you hide at the back of the cupboard, throw them together with the odd food colouring, and produce something that your guests are genuinely terrified of consuming. Or alternatively, look on Pinterest, for a trendy black Margarita recipe, and invest in some dry ice for the full spook effect.


Lantern injuries

When it comes to the battle between the pumpkin and the neep, the big orange squash has won. But it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t take long for it to get a bit whiffy, and the kind of monster pumpkins that dominate our supermarkets just aren’t made for eating, so there’s a lot of wastage. The neep, or turnip, of course, is the traditional vegetable of choice, though it is so challenging to carve that you'd be lucky not looking like a survivor from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by the time you've finished. Plasters essential, whatever your lantern.

Actual nightmares.

There is a slight danger, well more than a small one when it comes to young kids, that the whole experience of seeing unrecognisable human beings wondering round in masks that give the impression that half of someone’s face has fallen off, or that appear like a distillation of all the worst images of Donald Trump, could lead to some seriously bad dreams. This can be staved off, by putting on a comforting episode of The Great British Bake Off, though preferably not the one where Noel Fielding hides inside a fridge.

Overdosing on Tangfastics and eyeball lollies

Adults are as prone to this as children. After all, when the kids come home with a whole cauldron over-flowing with Haribos and sticky chews, someone has to help them out. One is okay, a dozen fizzy cola bottles later and you’re in trouble.

Being mugged by kids for whom an apple or cookie doesn’t work

Here’s a quick lesson: only sweeties and money will suffice.


It’s Day Of The Dead, isn’t it? Well, very nearly. You’ll be lucky if you get through it without thinking about a few lost loved ones. Pop another candy eyeball, or Bloody Mary, and it will all feel better.

Fake blood stains

Yes, it’s everywhere, and on everything, including your pillow, and probably some of it is actually left from last year’s Halloween. There are solutions, though. That’s what the internet’s for.

Bad behaviour

It’s almost inevitable that when you get a bunch of adults dressed up like they are killer clowns, vampires and superheroes, one or two of them will forget who they really are, and do something embarrassing or possibly appalling. It's Halloween. It happens. Chill out.

Politically incorrectness

Part of the point of Halloween is that you’re skirting the limits of good taste, but nevertheless there are more than a few costumes that really strain the limits of what’s forgivable. The worst offenders being blacking up and Harvey Weinstein. Others frown on psychiatric patients, sexy nurses, Mexican's in sombreros, Geisha girls, and anything that makes you look like you’re laughing at another person’s culture.

Costume Waste

Halloween sprawl has started to take over October. The result is that children, teenagers, and some adult, have not just one but several Halloween parties to go to, not to mention a bit of guising on the night itself. Some kids think this is a reason for multiple costumes. The answer, here, has to be No. One costume, hacked, multiple times over the festive period, so it reaches peak creepiness by its final wearing.

Really bad horror films

There are terrifying horror films, there are beautiful ones, and then there are the ones that are really, really bad. Roll out the The Evil Dead, please. For a top-tip try Dale and Tucker versus Evil or the new Netflix horror The Babysitter.