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What is the meaning of Halloween guising and is it different from trick or treating?

With Halloween just around the corner, the word guising is popping up more and more frequently. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the Scots term guising, how it differs from trick or treating and other Scottish Halloween traditions. 

What does guising mean? 

Guising derives from the word disguise, and is based on the notion that people dress up at Halloween. 

Children dress up and go from house to house, telling jokes and stories or singing songs in exchange for sweeties and food. 

The Collins dictionary defines guising as “the practice or custom of disguising oneself in fancy dress, often with a mask, and visiting people’s houses, especially at Halloween”. 

According to folklore, children dressed up so they could venture out safely without wicked ghouls detecting them. 

Homeowners may leave pumpkins or decorations outside their houses to indicate they are welcoming guisers. 

Is guising different to trick or treating? 

Yes, guising is different to trick or treating. 

Traditionally, guising requires you to tell a story or a joke or sing a song, while trick or treating simply requires going up to doors and calling “trick or treat”. 

Treat usually refers to a sweetie or food item, while trick refers to the threat of a trick being played on homeowners if they don’t offer a treat. 

What other Scottish Halloween traditions take place? 

There are a few more Scottish Halloween traditions aside form guising. 

Before pumpkin carving became the done thing, Scots traditionally carved turnips instead and filled them with candles. 

Apple dookin’ is also a Scottish tradition; people have to get apples out of a basin of water using just their mouths. 

Alternatively, people hold forks in their mouths and drop them from a distance in an attempt to stab an apple. 

Another tradition was especially for newly engaged couples; the couple would each burn a nut on the fire and if the nuts burned quietly a happy union lay ahead, while if they crackled and hissed there was more likely a turbulent future.  

A game that has been modernised is treacle scones – back in the day, people used to try to eat scones suspended with strings without using their hands. 

Nowadays, this game tends to be played using donuts. 



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