Halloween has been and gone, and Guy Fawkes Night is imminent. I was reminded of the mistaken cultural crossovers by my married daughter when she insisted that “Guisin” was really all about Penny for the Guy. With some patience I tried to correct the conflation of Samhain and a Scots word which has connections to the ancient Celtic or religious festivals, but none whatsoever to a plot to blow up Parliament in a religious act of terror.
In the Borders and some Lowland counties one could describe guisin as going out in Galoshans or putting on disguise.
The monster that has been created by the giant supermarkets and the descendants of Scots who went to North America in forced and unforced emigrations, has returned in that awful American, commercial, off–the–peg Trick or Treat.
In my childhood growing up in the Central belt, Halloween was a celebration of customs which only became understood when much older. I am not going to try and explain the reason for these customs, but rather that they are getting rarer and the basic idea of giving something first, which is followed by a reward for something well done, seems to be getting completely lost.
One of the first things that happened was the Turnip Lantern. Getting a big tumshie was almost a sport amongst kids, but really the ‘turnip’ was in all probability a Swede. The very difficult task of scooping it out and carving the scary face usually happened in day or two before Halloween and then a candle was placed inside. Some of the more affluent types used bike lamps.
It was always a requirement to learn as a group or as a solo singer, to sing a short song, recite a poem, or tell jokes. The verdict on the performance was always in the amount of nuts, oranges, apples or sweets received. In rare cases, if one performed well, there were pennies and half -pennies to be gained. At parties, and quite often in houses we called at, ‘dookin for epples’ was a must with a large zinc bath filled with water, and the child had to kneel on a chair and drop a fork held between the teeth, over the chair back to spear one of the apples.
Disabled children who spend most of their day in a wheelchair cannot always take part in those celebrations, but a non–profit organization in Canada called Magic Wheelchair transforms local disabled children’s wheelchairs into fantastical characters or vehicles from popular films & animations, or simply ideas from the creative mind of the child.
The Huffington Post reports this year’s effort for a lucky disabled child.