It’s Halloween – or at least it is if you happen to live in one specific area of Scotland.

All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated in countries all over the world on October 31, and is believed to have been inspired by the Gaelic festival of Samhain.

In the East Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock, and in surrounding settlements such as Stewarton, Fenwick and Galston though, the date of Halloween is not quite so firmly fixed.

Strange as it may sound, people in the area celebrate on the last Friday in October – regardless of the actual date it happens to fall on.

The tradition can be baffling to outsiders, with numerous stories of befuddled expats from Glasgow or the east coast explaining to disappointed Ayrshire children that they don’t have any trick or treat sweets because, well, it’s not Halloween for another few days.

The origins of ‘Killieween’ are hard to pin down.


One local legend is that the tradition, appropriately enough, concerns witches. The story goes that the Baron of Marnock sought special dispensation following the outlawing of witch burnings due to supposed sorcerers working black magic on the local dairy cows.

It would allow witches to be burned in Kilmarnock on the same day as the cattle market – which was on the last Friday of the month. It’s a nice story, with just one issue. It’s not true.

Frank Beattie, a historian and children’s author who has written several books about the history of Kilmarnock and Ayshire says: “Kilmarnock traditionally celebrates Halloween on a Friday, the last Friday of October.

“There’s been all sorts of theories and stories built up around this and it certainly goes back decades – it was on a Friday when I was a young lad in the 60s, and it probably goes back much earlier than that.

“There’s all sorts of nonsense spoken about Friday was the day that witches were burned. It’s a lot of nonsense - there were no witch burnings in Kilmarnock.

The Herald:

“The reason is probably much more mundane, in that Kilmarnock was a busy industrial town with a lot of big employers and the children knew that payday was Friday.

“So if they went out on a Friday they’d have a much better chance of getting some sweets, apples, or whatever than on any other day of the week.

“It’s not a spooky reason – but it’s very practical.”

If that were true though, wouldn’t it also be the case for steelworkers in Lanarkshire, or shipbuilders in Glasgow? Yet it’s only Kilmarnock and its immediate environs where October 31st isn’t necessarily Halloween.

Mr Beattie laughs: “Because Kilmarnock kids are smarter than kids from anywhere else!

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“I don’t know, sometimes these things just work out that way. It was certainly a Friday when I was a young child and that’s just carried on.

“Why it didn’t happen anywhere else I don’t know.

“Nobody really knows but I think one of the reasons is that, until the advent of television, every town, every village and every city would do their own thing. Television has tried to harmonise everybody into doing the same thing at the same time and in Kilmarnock that has just slipped through and we celebrate Halloween on a Friday.

“In recent years Kilmarnock has started to exploit that. It’s something a wee bit different so let’s have a festival on Halloween – but Kilmarnock Halloween.

“This year we’ve got spooky walks, games, decorations, the town centre lights. So Kilmarnock is trying to build this up and it might well be that some people will be drawn into the town because of it, and that can only be good for traders.

“A lot of the traders are on board, we’ve had a bad couple of years because of Covid. The pubs and cafes have put on their own things, and some shots are decorated for Halloween and there’s at least one café staying open late on Friday so that people who are on the spooky walks to get a tea or coffee.

“There’s a community spirit about it – no pun intended!”