Kilmarnock, right in the heart of Ayrshire and my home town, has some peculiar and quite ancient customs around the celebration of Hallowe’en. At the turn of the last century our town was a large factory town, famous the world over for foundries, carpet mills, and whisky, and the working people were not at all very well off. On account of the working man’s payday being on a Friday, and because pennies were in short supply during the rest of the week, the Kilmarnock folk started hodin’ Hallowe’en on the last Friday of October – so’s the wains wad hae something.

Long Scots tradition had it, even in the midst of austere Calvinism, that oan the nicht o’ Samhain the de’il an’ aw his dubh yins wad be aboon. It was a night of bogles, carlins, and the odd lurking kelpie. Auld yarns and songs, in a time when even the adults swore by their encounters with the banshee, made sure the bairns were terrified. The obvious answer to the dread was to disguise ourselves as sprites and monsters to keep the roaming creatures of the netherworld at bay – presumably by fooling them into thinking the place was already overrun.

Families would gather together for a night of festivities to mark the end of harvest; dookin’ for apples, lighting neep lanterns, listening to auld harrowing stories, and roasting nuts. All of this was important somehow, and I wish I knew why. Them that were in love would put a nut each on the coals of the open fire, and if any of those nuts began to spit it was a really bad idea to consider marriage. If you failed to pull an apple from the pale of water with only your teeth it was a good idea to get your affairs in order, because this would be your last Hallowe’en.

Out on the street the younger ones would go door to door visiting menace on the neighbours. Dressed as vampires and ghosts the kids would chap on every door asking if them inside had oanie Hollowe’en, and would expect to be lavished with toffee apples, peanuts, and bags of barley-sugars. Woe betide any auld miser – like “I-know-all-about-you” on Tinto Avenue – who’d come up short. Having your bins upturned would be the least of your worries. Wan year his dug got robbed! All of this was the famous guising, now largely replaced with the saccharine Americanised trick-or-treating, and right now the lads and lassies of Scotland are getting ready to do it all over again. Och, Oidhche Shamhna math dhuibh uile! Tha mi an dochas gum bidh spors math agaibh uile a-nochd.

Jason Michael
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