The “Let’s Talk Scotland” Inevitable Rant about Hallowe’en

*Rolls up sleeves and prepares for a sweary rant – you have been warned*

Hallowe’en is almost upon us! For those of you who live in cute country villages or neat suburban streets, that means welcoming the wee weans from the local area all dressed up in “scary” costumes crafted by them with the help of lovingly willing parents bought from Asda into your homes to hear them do a wee party piece (well, hopefully – more about that to come…) and being rewarded with a sweetie. For those of us who live in the centre of a city, that means stepping over drunk folk in the street who have been out getting plastered on “spooky themed” cheap cocktails the colour of nuclear waste, whilst wearing some nylon – often far too revealing – fancy dress get-up, who seem to have adopted Hallowe’en as yet another excuse (as if its needed) for a “celebratory” piss-up.

Hallowe’en has, in fact, always been quite a Big Thing in Scotland. People who know more about this than me explain that it actually can be traced back to some obscure Celtic festival to mark the end of summer in Scotland. Rabbie Burns even wrote a poem about it!

Now, it’s a well known fact amongst my good friends that I have a real bug up my arse about Hallowe’en. This isn’t about the fact that I can’t be arsed with fancy dress. While that is true (the golden era for me was when the film Reservoir Dogs was popular during my uni years, which meant that I could get away with wearing a black suit, white shirt, tie and sunglasses to a fancy dress party and still claim to have “made an effort” – incidentally, the Blues Brothers is also a good tip here for others who are as lazy as I am), my main reason for vexation at Hallowe’en comes down to one word.



Those of you who are a) Scottish and b) my age (42 – for only another two feckin weeks!) or older will know EXACTLY what I am talking about.

I am talking about this:


This, my friends, is a turnip. Or – to give it its Scots name – a neep. Or, in other parts of the world, it’s often called a swede. But it’s a bloody turnip, ok? Got that?

THIS magnificent orb of vegetabley goodness is what Scottish people carve their Hallowe’en lanterns out of:


Is it pretty? No. Is it easy to carve? Not even slightly (seriously, you’d be advised to start with a pneumatic drill). Is it smelly? Oh yes – like the arse crack of Satan. But it’s tradition. It’s daft. It’s fun (kind of…). And it’s Scottish!

But, alas, our american cousins have infiltrated our Hallowe’en traditions with their bloody, cheerful, easier to carve, bulbous orange offerings. I have to say, I bloody love a pumpkin (any squash in fact). To EAT! Not as a substitute for our insane proud traditions. Look: I am not averse to everything that america has sent our way – give me pancakes with bacon any day – but I do really think it’s a shame that wee Scottish kids think pumpkin lanterns are a tradition when we have a perfectly good one of our own!

So here’s a plea to any Scottish folk reading this who have kids. This year, why not turn(ip) your back on the pumpkin and rediscover the joy worthy hard work of carving a turnip lantern with your little ones? The full shebang: the string tied round it for a handle for the kids to carry about; the candle inside (actually, on second thoughts, maybe that combo is, in fact, a massive fire hazard). Yes, it’s harder to carve than a bastarding pumpkin – but you’ll feel a warm glow inside. Or maybe just get a warm glow from your blisters. Whatever. You’ll be keeping a tradition alive!

And since I’m on about keeping traditions alive – AND having a go at Americans – here’s another thing that does my dinger about Hallowe’en.



In Scotland, we have the lovely term “guising”. This essentially means, kids dressing up in their Hallowe’en costumes, and going round the neighbours’ houses (well, the ones who have stupidly forgotten to turn out every light, shut down every light-omitting viewing device and hide in their wardrobes so they don’t have to open the door to the little darlings) to do a “turn”, which will then be rewarded with some kind of Nice Thing. When I was wee this was at best a decent handful of sweeties and at worst, monkey nuts (I feckin HATE monkey nuts. Nuts need to be either covered in salt, or that yummy spicy crispy coating stuff or embedded in some kind of chocolate based baked product to have any joy. Monkey nuts can fuck right off). Now, it has been a long time since I lived in a street where any kids went guising (where I live in Shit Street, if a kid knocked your door wearing a scary costume, you’d immediately – and most likely, correctly – assume you were being robbed, slam the door and call the police) but I am reliably informed by some pals who live in “nice” streets that some kids actually come round their houses at Hallowe’en in costume and do the following:

  1. Say “trick or treat”
  2. DO NOT sing a song / tell a joke / recite a poem / do a shite card trick
  3. Assume they will receive a “reward” for doing eff all – these days this is often expected to be money

Sorry, but no. No. No. No.

So a second plea to Scottish folk reading this who have kids: call it GUISING and ensure your kids have a “turn” prepared. Seriously – it’s character-building. And nicer than threatening to throw eggs at your neighbours houses, surely?

And lastly. What’s with all the ready-made bought costumes many kids seem to go about in these days?! Over the last few days, I’ve walked past quite a few wee kids on their way to / from fancy dress parties and none seemed to be wearing stuff that was clearly craply home-made (I would have backed this up with photographic evidence, but I’d imagine going around taking photos of children in the street may be frowned upon). But isn’t the making of a costume part of the fun? I remember dressing up as a dice once. A dice. You couldn’t go out an buy a dice costume! Nope – shitey cardboard box and poster paint all the way. Ach, mind you – I know it’s easy for me to say: I don’t have kids so don’t have to be faffed with all that. If I DID have kids, they’d no doubt be sent off to their brownie / scout Hallowe’en party dressed as a Reservoir Dog…

To be fair, every year I do see a few costumes on social media from creative pals which show the art of home-made costumes is still alive and well with some folk. One such pal raises the bar every year with her creations, and she’s permitted me to share these photos with you:




Aren’t those COOL?! I really hope she carves turnips lanterns too 🙂

A HUGE thumbs up to all the parents and other folk who still carve turnips and make costumes – I know there are still plenty of you out there!

I’ll leave the last word to a favourite film character of mine 😉


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5 thoughts on “The “Let’s Talk Scotland” Inevitable Rant about Hallowe’en

  1. Some serious grumpy old lady stuff going on here, you sound like my parents banging on about the good old days with rickets and Stanley Baxter 🙂


  2. Sadly cool costume lady has been co-opted this year by the Forces of Darkness to help carve pumpkins. Though given how much faff that turned out to be, neeps definitely aren’t on the agenda. The costumes are very handmade however, and I have explained the difference between guising and trick or treat, so all is not lost…


  3. Ha! I could have written this! Guisin’ was so much more wholesome than trick or treat, even if it is begging with your mother’s goonie on. And what better way to spend your October break than removing the insides of a neep? The fact that you had no feeling in one hand until Christmas is neither here nor there. Soon we’ll be treated to a three week equivalent of living in Beirut. Give me 31/10 over 5/11 any day.


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