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Through the eyes of a Scotsman: U.S. vs. Scottish Halloween


Staff Writer

The growth of Halloween in North America has been attributed to the arrival of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the States in the late 19th century. As a Scot in America, it would be rude of me not to take part in the festivities and compare them to my experiences from back home.

I was keen to see how Halloween differed from across the pond, if it did at all. The celebration is an exciting part of the year for anyone below the age of around 10 in Scotland and without Thanksgiving, it bridges the gap between the end of summer and the beginning of the Christmas season.

Halloween then re-emerges as an excuse to dress like a dafty (an idiot) and party in the later years of high school and into college.

In my years at primary (elementary) school I enjoyed many Halloween parties, with prizes for best pumpkin carving, best costume and among other games in an evening often held in the school gym hall. A favourite game of mine was always the apple bobbing, or ‘apple dooking’ as it is called in Scotland, the word ‘dook’ coming from the Scottish term to dip or plunge.

Although the concept is the same in Scottland, the Scottish term for trick-or-treating is ‘guising,’ relating to the act of going from door to door in disguise.

A universal attribute of Halloween, is of course the carving of pumpkins. This practice is as popular in Scotland as it is in America with families and friends carving faces and patterns into pumpkins and displaying them with a candle inside.

It seems Halloween is the lone and best opportunity for American students to dress in costume.

At university in Scotland, Halloween is just one of a number of nights in which people will dress up to go out.

Although Halloween is the only recognized occasion in which it is expected that people will dress up, things like sports team nights out and birthdays may well also have a costume theme. It is fairly normal to see a group of students dressed in costume in the bars and nightclubs in Scotland on a night out.

In fact some of the nightclubs and bars at home will have fancy dress themed student nights at different times throughout the year, with cheaper entry fees and drinks promotions which are offered to anyone who takes part in the dress up theme.

Funny enough, an ‘American frat party’ is one of many themes that Scottish nightclubs may use to attract customers to their club or bar, with club goers decked out in snapbacks and red solo cups. I think these nights might be a bit of a let-down when I go home thanks to my experiences of the ‘real thing’ here in the States.

There are many similarities in both cultures and the way in which they celebrate Halloween in both countries. It is clear that very few students care much, if at all, for the reasons why they are ‘celebrating’ the occasion of Halloween.

In most cases, Halloween is nothing more than an excuse to go out and party, with the added bonus of being able to get dressed up, pose for pictures and have fun with friends.  My experiences over the weekend were very similar to the parties I have been to previously this semester. If it were not for everyone being dressed up, I do not think you’d have been able to tell it was Halloween at all.

The next date for me to look forward to is Thanksgiving at the end of the month. It is something I have never experienced before and I am excited to see what it’s like and how it compares to celebrations at home.

The holiday is unlike anything that is celebrated in Scotland and is certainly much larger in terms of importance and observance than most national holidays at home. It will definitely be interesting to take part in yet another ‘first’ for me in my time in Salisbury. It is just as well I like turkey I guess!

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