Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Scottish Halloween

I wrote this baby while listening to a string quartet play music from the nightmare before christmas. perfect. this is my holcad article for next week! i love halloween :)

It's that time of year again where leaves litter the sidewalk, candy flows like a river, horror movies take over cable networks, jack-o-lanterns light up every stoop, amusement parks turn into torturous adventures, superstitions run wild and skimpy outfits are socially acceptable for one evening. It's Halloween: a holiday that has been Americanized and over-commercialized, essentially forgoing the main reason of celebration. As Halloween is my favorite holiday, I was nervous I would miss out on the the usual American rigamarole.  Fortunately, Halloween is a major part of the Scottish culture, with the original "All Hallows Eve" celebrations tracing back to the Celtic Scots. Little did I know before studying abroad that I would be celebrating Halloween in the very country where the tradition originated! Robert Burns, my favorite Scottish poet, even wrote a poem about the Holiday which can be found here on the BBC website:

Scottish folk tend to reflect on the more ritualistic aspects of Halloween in their nation, even though these celebrations root from dark histories. According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve initially incorporated traditions from pagan harvest festivals and those which honored the dead. Particularly the Celtic Samhainn, originating from the Irish, Scottish and Manx peoples, taking place from October 31-November 1, which marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the "darker half" of the year. Bonfires, called samhnagan in Scotland at the time, were largely part of this festival where corpses of live stock were burned in the flames as part of a cleansing ritual. In modern Scotland,  it's still customary in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhainn feast, telling tales of ancestors on that night. The tradition of wearing costumes and masks is also traced back to the Samhainn, where Scottish men wore masked or blackened faces and white clothing in order to impersonate the dead. Turnips, instead of pumpkins, were carved and lighted with candles as another form of warding off evil spirits. In the 19th century, children in Scotland and Ireland started going door to door "guising" in costume, carrying turnip lanterns in an attempt to receive food or coins for their song and dance. The Irish and Scottish immigration to America at this time started to influence the American tradition of trick-or-treating which is still carried out today. In modern Scotland, it's not uncommon for young adults to galavant around town in costume through the whole year.  Each week, various places in town host "fancy dress" parties.  If I didn't know that "fancy dress" meant costume, I'd show up at these parties wearing, well, a fancy dress. 

In Scotland, they mainly focus on the days surrounding All Hallows' Eve and the night itself.  This year Halloween is on a Wednesday and Stirling University is hosting its own party in Envy, the on-campus night club. The children in the town of Stirling also have the opportunity to go out "guising" on this night. One event I'll be exploring happens from the 29-31 where the town of Stirling is hosting "ghost walks" around the city.  The website for the event describes that the walk will consist of "a guided tour of Stirling's historic Old Town, led by actors in the guise of the spooks themselves, mixing drama, comedy and storytelling [with] Jock Rankin (the Happy Hangman), Blind Alick Lyon (the original Manic Street Preacher), the amorous Auld Staney Breeks, [and] the mysterious and deadly Green Lady." One of the most traditional celebrations takes place in Perthshire at the Crannog Centre on Halloween; The Spooks & Sacrifice, Celtic Samhainn Festival includes a ritualistic torch procession, ceremonial bonfire sacrifices, storytelling, apple dookin', and pumpkin carving.

On the whole, Halloween in Scotland will be slightly different from an American version.  Of course I'll still marathon Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas and Halloweentown, but my main focus will be reminiscing on the dark origins of All Hallows Eve by attending the ghost walk and telling scary stories around a bonfire.  Instead of worrying about werewolves, I'll be scared that Nessie is lurking in my campus' loch. This year I'm determined to show off my Poison Ivy "fancy dress" and I couldn't be more excited to do so in the country where the tradition originated.

this is halloween, everybody make a scream
love, hill

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