Celebrating Halloween in Scotland

Halloween might make you think of carved pumpkins, creepy outfits and lots of sugar, but did you know that 31st October is rooted in Scottish tradition? Halloween originates from the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, a pagan harvest celebration, which took place at the end of summer. The Celts believed that the barriers between the human world and the spirit world broke down during this time. And although this spooky Autumn event has evolved since then, many of our traditions go way back. So, here are some of the ways we celebrate Halloween in Scotland today…

Halloween traditions in Scotland

Scary costumes

One of the most popular Halloween traditions is dressing up as your favourite creepy character. This began with the Celts, who would dress as monsters and fierce animals on Samhain, to ward off the evil spirits that walked the earth.

Witches hat with an autumnal background
Dressing up is one of the oldest Halloween traditions.


The tradition of children dressing up on Halloween and going door-to-door originated in the early celebrations of Samhain. Today, in some parts of the UK and elsewhere, this may be called “trick or treating”, where children shout “trick or treat” and receive sweets and treats. However, in Scotland, we call it “guising”. And here, children have to work a little harder for their treat, usually by performing a wee joke or a poem.

Halloween treats in a bowl
Scottish children receive Halloween sweets and treats when they go guising on Halloween.

Apple dooking

A classic Halloween activity still around today – bobbing for apples! In Scotland, we call this “dooking” (ducking). A game of skill… and strong bites, you have to find a way to grab an apple out of the water without using your hands. This game was actually inspired by the Romans, who brought some of their traditions over when they invaded in the first century.

Apples floating in water, ready for apple dooking
Dooking for apples comes from an ancient Roman tradition

Neep carving

In the Scottish Highlands, the tradition of making Jack-o-lanterns began in the 19th century. Of course, there were no pumpkins in Scotland around that time. Turnips and swedes were the vegetables of choice. We still make Jack-o-lanterns in Scotland today, although most tend to be pumpkins now, which are significantly easier to carve!

Halloween Jack-o-lantern carved from a turnip
Traditionally, Scots carved their lanterns from turnips and swedes.

Scary stories

Large communal bonfires lit during Samhain were an important part of ancient celebrations. And although today bonfires are more closely associated with Bonfire Night, smaller fires, candles and lanterns provide the perfect backdrop for telling ghost stories! Here in the Scottish Highlands, we have plenty of scary tales to tell! Have you heard about the ghosts of Carbisdale Castle? If sightings are anything to go by, the building and grounds are haunted by many! There’s a woman dressed in white called Betty, the Duchess who never got to see her castle completed, fallen soldiers from battles and even a “Hooded Gardener” avenging a daughter’s death.

The flames of a Halloween fire
Bonfires symbolised the sun and kept evil spirits away on Samhain.

Autumn evenings in the Highlands

However you’re spending Halloween, it’s always a perfect time to warm yourself up with some traditional Scottish comfort food at Mackays Hotel and No 1 Bistro. We don’t have any apples to dunk, but we do have apple crumble!

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