Halloween Tales From Orkney: ‘SMEAKING’

‘In pressing forward in the race for progress, we have left something behind which it would have been well to preserve’ ,

so wrote ‘Auld Callant’ in 1863 for The Orkney Herald and Advertiser. He continues:

People seem to have little patience now-a-days with the pastimes and merrymaking that delighted their mothers and fathers in their early years.

Halloween has become a ghost of what it once was. Halloween: In the days of my boyhood there was magic in the name. Long before the day arrived we hoarded up all the apples, turnips and cabbage stocks we could either steal or beg. It was impossible to sleep on the night proceeding the auspicious eve.

There was excitement on every face – mischief brewing in every heart. The birch fell harmless on the backs of impudent urchins who only made faces and laughed. Not a tear could the dominie draw though he tried his best. One wild prolonged ‘hooray’ rang throughout the town when the school cleared out in the afternoon.

The proceedings of the evening commenced with the tub and apples. The old folks looked leniently upon the escapades of Halloween and I wonder much if fathers and mothers are so indulgent to their offspring now. The ‘dooking’ went on vigorously and much uproarious mirth until the floor was flooded., and then the old folks thought it necessary to interfere.

A string was next suspended to a cleek in the roof, to the lower extremity of which a short stick was attached having a candle on one end and an apple on the other. The string was then made to swing backwards and forwards like a pendulum or to sweep round in a circle, and many were the mouthfuls of candle and bumps on the nose received by the group of struggling snatchers and biters. The youth who could seize a section of the much abused apple between his teeth was looked upon as a perfect hero.

[In the original account there are racist references which are not included here as they are totally unacceptable. At the time of the writer some of the Halloween events celebrated by children were tied into Racist and Anti-Catholic views. ]

The turnip lantern was a great affair.

The lads would then put the lantern with a burning candle inside upon a pole and place it at windows to scare those inside the house.

After this the boys would then run around the town, each one armed with a heavy turnip or a strong ‘kail runt’. Then they would rush at every door, smashing at it and rattling the handles and locks.

Accordingly enraged householders, armed with cudgels, and fiery faced housewives flourishing brooms, joined in pursuit of the rascals, and occasionally the run was long and hot.

The children would then take to the fields and hide in the ditches.

But the chief of all our stolen pleasures at Halloween was SMEAKING.

Smeaking involved a hollowed out cabbage stock. This was then stuffed with ‘tow’ and lighted cinders. The smell was dreadful.

‘When this was effected we slipped quietly to the door or window of a house, and breathed volumes of stifling smoke through the most convenient aperture we could find.

If policemen had abounded in those days the boys and girls might have been arrested for wilful fire raising.

That night now seems to have lost its peculiar charm over the popular mind, and in a few years it will be altogether numbered among the things that were.

Wi’ merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter’d so’ns, wi’ fragrant lunt,
Set a’ their gabs a-steerin’;
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin’
Fu’ blythe that night.

green cabbage
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Also in this series: #Halloween Tales from Orkney: Carts, Peats & Gun Shots

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3 replies »

  1. PS
    My family celebrated Halloween more than Bonfire night – we were weirdy-folk – and Catholics!