Ev­ery­thing you ever wanted to know about Hal­loween but were afraid to ask...


Sunday Herald - - 29.10.17 LIFESTYLE -

THE grand fes­ti­val of gore and mis­rule that is Hal­loween never 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 now Oc­to­ber 31 is fast be­com­ing one of the big­gest con­sumer fes­ti­vals in the UK, third for spend­ing after Christ­mas and Easter. Ac­cord­ing to fore­casts, our splurge in the UK this year is set 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 many 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 films.

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 the old ways and the new.


The cor­rect term here in Scot­land, of course, is “guis­ing”, not “trick or treat­ing”, al­though 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 around 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!” 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 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 [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”.

So 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, 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”.

En­joy. It’ll be a scream.


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 is there­fore a time when lost rel­a­tives and an­ces­tors can pass over and visit.

So, set a place for one of your an­ces­tors 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.

What seems all too of­ten for­got­ten in the sugar and plas­tic over-loaded frenzy that it has be­come to­day is that, at its heart, Hal­loween is about re­mem­ber­ing the dead

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