Wednesday, 31 October 2012


The Stromness Library Reading Group meets tonight to discuss Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, a suitably dark text for our Hallowe'en meeting!

In the days before pumpkins and 'trick or treat' came to Stromness, children could look forward to some equally tasty, though slightly healthier treats, as George Mackay Brown recalls in Letters From Hamnavoe: 

The old wooden tub was taken out of the shed and set squarely on the flagstone floor. It was threequarters filled with water; maybe a kettleful of hot water was added to take the chill off. Then a poke bursting with apples was emptied into the tub, where they tossed and eddied and collided with each other - ruddy fragrant spheres .
 There were other seasonal treats too:

I have only a vague memory of what we did with the nuts - whether they were 'dooked' for too, or simply shared out - walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts thinly scattered among a huge profusion of monkey nuts.
There were one  or two variations; as when an apple coated with syrup was suspended from a rafter and the object of the exercise was to take a bite out of it. It was not so easy either, and meantime, cheeks and foreheads got stickier and stickier...

We can remember doing something similar as children, with pancakes spread with syrup or treacle, hanging from a string, which had to be eaten without the use of your hands. Yummy but messy!

The origins of such traditions are lost to time, but as GMB points out:
There must certainly be some reason rooted in old magic for these rituals. Of course the apples and the nuts marked the consummation of the fruitful year. Ahead stretched the gauntness and snows of winter.

It would be good to hear your memories of Hallowe'en traditions from previous generations - please feel free to add them as a comment below this post.

 image from


  1. Trying to carve a turnip lantern - someone was sent to dig up(steal)said turnip from farmer's field, then 4 of us (siblings) spent whole day trying to scoop out the middle - obviously no parental supervision so no sharp (useful) implements allowed! Then the reward - dooking for apples, baked tatties from the coal fire and the delicious smell of burning turnip!

  2. Thanks for sharing that Annie - we too remember the frustrations of 'safe' scooping implements - which ironically led to multiple injuries through efforts at chiselling rebounding into fingers and hands, while leaving the neep itself unscathed!

    Oh yes, the smell of burning neep must be 'the' smell of Hallowe'en.


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