Samhuinn: Exploring the Celtic roots of Halloween in Edinburgh

Samhuinn: Exploring the Celtic roots of Halloween in Edinburgh

Did you know that Halloween customs we know and love are in fact the remnants of the ancient Scottish Samhuinn Fire Festival?

I will come as no surprise to learn that Halloween or rather, Hallowe’en, traces its origins way back to the ancient Celtic Samhuinn Festival. The celebration takes place on top of Calton Hill on the same night as Hallowe’en. The story follows the overthrowing of Summer by Winter, with a dramatic stand-off between the Summer and Winter Kings. This is overseen by the Cailleach, a Celtic representation of the Goddess, or Divine Hag, who ultimately decides each King’s fate and ushers in the colder months.

Featured images by Regis Simonetti (All rights reserved)

Many of the Halloween customs we know and love today are in fact remnants of this ancient culture, from trick-or-treating to jack-o’-lanterns. It also takes its name from All Hallows Eve, the night before the Christian festival of All Hallows or All Saints Day, when the dead were thought to return to earth to walk among the living. In the Celtic calendar, it marks the end of the lighter half (summer) and the beginning of the darker half (winter) of the year. Up to 2000 years ago, at Samhuinn Celtics honoured their ancestors and invited them home while warding off evil spirits. They wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as harmful spirits and thus avoid harm. In the 19th century when Irish families emigrated to America in great numbers, they carried this tradition with them and the wearing of masks and costumes now survives as a Halloween custom.

Here is a video from the last edition of the Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh:

 

Until now, Samhuinn is still observed in most Celtic nations including, of course, Scotland! Among all the celebrations, the Samhuinn Fire Festival is definitely the most spectacular event with hundreds of otherworldly creatures showing up on a spooky ghostly night! Here is a selection of the best shots from last year’s event.

 

Scotland is Diverse

Scotland is Diverse

 

One of Scotland’s most famous attributes is its world-renowned reputation for providing a warm and open welcome to everyone who comes here. Whether it’s the many people who choose to live here permanently or the millions who visit Scotland each and every year, you’re sure to hear many stories of the genuine friendliness of the Scottish people.

Today in Scotland, more than 170 different languages are spoken – from Punjabi to Polish, and Cantonese to Gaelic. All these different people contribute to making Scotland a great place to live, work, study, visit or do business in!

Our diversity is something that we’re incredibly proud of and we continue to make great strides in ensuring Scotland is open to everyone. Whether it’s the thousands of refugees we’ve welcomed with open arms or the fact that we rank as one of the best countries in Europe for LGBTQI+ rights and equality, Scotland truly is a melting pot of inclusivity.

Lights, Camera, Action! – Scotland and Edinburgh through the big screen

Lights, Camera, Action! – Scotland and Edinburgh through the big screen

When learning a language, it’s always best to combine business with pleasure! Watching movies or TV shows is actually a very good method to improve your receptive skills and expand your vocabulary in a new language! The best way to work your way up to an almost-perfect understanding of an English movie is to take it slow. Try watching movies in English with subtitles in your own language at first. Then, when you feel comfortable enough, switch to English subtitles. Finally, the last step would be to watch them without any subtitles! It’s a great exercise and your English will thank you for it!

Here’s a list of a few movies and TV shows set in Scotland, full of magnificent scenery and shots of this beautiful country!

One Day (2010), Lone Scherfig

Based on the novel of the same name by David Nicholls, the story follows the lives and relationship of Emma and Dexter, respectively played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. The movie was partly filmed in Edinburgh: it opens and ends in the beautiful Scottish capital and features, amongst others, breath-taking views of Arthur’s Seat, Parliament Square, Calton Hill and Victoria Street.

 

 

Braveheart (1995), Mel Gibson

There is no doubt the infamous movie recounting the tale of Willian Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior and leader of troops against Edward I of England has brought countless people to the Highlands. The movie offers wonderful shots of the Scottish countryside including the areas near Glen Coe and Loch Leven. Another highly popular location for fans of the movie these day is the Glen Nevis Valley, which is where the crew built the village of Lanark, Wallace’s childhood home.

Ironically enough, there aren’t many other parts of Scotland featured in the movie, as the rest was shot … in Ireland (including the big battle scene).

Outlander (2014), Starz

There is no denying that Outlander has taken over the small screen in the past couple of years. The great acting and carefully though-out plotting are certainly part of the reason why, but the cinematography is undoubtedly a big part of it as well. Set in 18th century Scotland, the locations they used in the series are simply too numerous to be listed exhaustively here. Beautiful shots of landscapes, castles, lochs and villages will make you fall in love with Scotland instantly. To name but a few, Doune Castle was used for Castle Leoch, Black Castle stands in for Fort William, they set up the standing stones circle in Rannoch Moor and Midhope Castle was used for Jamie’s family home, Lallybroch or Broch Tuarach.

 

Skyfall (2012), Sam Mendes

The 2012 action movie and 23rd James Bond film contains some spectacular shots of the Scottish Highlands. In the movie, the Bond family estate is located in the Highlands and although the actual house they used was a mock up, they still filmed the Scottish landscape around Glen Etive and used it as the way leading up to that house.

 

Trainspotting (1996), Danny Boyle

Just like the book, the movie is set in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, almost all of it was filmed in Glasgow. However, you can still spot a few shots of the Scottish capital, especially in the opening chase scene of the movie.  You can see Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle, Hanover Street and Calton Road under Regent Bridge.

 

Honorary mention: Brave (2012), B. Chapman and  M. Andrews

Although not a live-action movie, I could not let this one slip. The 2012 Disney Pixar adventure film is 100% set in the medieval Scottish Highlands, and 100% inspired by Scottish culture. From the Highland Games to tartan and bagpipes, this one is a must see for a real Scottish feel. Merida’s family castle, Dunbroch, was heavily inspired by Dunnotar Castle in Aberdeenshire, south of Stonehaven. The landscapes seen in the movie when Merida travels through the countryside on her horse Angus were also inspired by real locations such as Glen Affric. Finally, some might recognise the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis as the inspiration for the movie’s standing stones circle.

The history of Scotland’s most famous clans

The history of Scotland’s most famous clans

Series in which Paul Murton uncovers the history of Scotland’s most famous clans. He begins his journey by exploring his own MacGregor ancestry. In the 17th century this Highland clan reached such heights of infamy that it was outlawed by the State and the name MacGregor became punishable by death.

 

 

For almost 400 years the MacDonalds dominated the Highlands and Islands of Scotland but at the end of the 15th century this mighty clan was ripped apart by a bitter family feud. The struggle between father and son had disastrous consequences from which the MacDonalds never recovered.

 

 

During the 16th century terrible atrocities were committed as rival Highland clans battled for supremacy. The Age of Feuds and Forays was a high point for Gaelic culture but one stained with blood. One clan in particular flourished during this violent chapter in Scottish history and its name was MacLeod.

 

 

There can be few Highland Clans more mired in bloodshed than Clan Campbell. The Campbells combined an understanding of the law with formidable might to become the most powerful and influential clan in the country. But in the middle of the 17th century Scotland was ravaged by a bloody civil war that gave the Campbell’s bitter rivals, the MacDonalds an opportunity to exact revenge. Thousands died as these two mighty Highland Clans battled for supremacy.

 

Pancake Day the British Way!

Pancake Day the British Way!

Pancake Day is also known as Shrove Tuesday in the UK and takes place on Tuesday 13th February this year. It marks the last day before the Christian festival of Lent which is generally a period of abstinence. It is customary to eat pancakes on this day as pancake recipes used up food that was traditionally given up for Lent such as eggs, milk, butter and sugar.

Pancake

Wherever you are in the world, join us in making the perfect pancakes with this recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 50g butter

Method:

1. Pour the flour through a sieve into a large mixing bowl and dig a little hole in the centre. Add the eggs into the hole and pour in about 50ml milk. Start whisking the mixture together from the centre and beat until you have a smooth, thick paste. Then, continue to whisk whilst steadily pouring in the rest of the milk until you have a batter that is the same consistency of a relatively thick single cream.

2. Grease the frying pan with some of the butter and heat over a moderate temperature. Then, pour a small part of the mixture over the pan, tilting it to allow the mixture to settle in a thin and even layer. Return the pan to the heat and allow the mixture to cook for around 30 seconds.

3. To cook the pancake on the other side, you can either turn it over carefully with a spatula, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can flip it using the pan (we only recommend this flipping technique for more experienced pancake-makers!). Cook for a futher 30 seconds and you should have the perfect golden pancake! Repeat stages 3 and 4 for each extra pancake. If you follow this recipe, you should have enough mixture to make around 8 pancakes.

4. Add your favourite toppings! For this section, you can add savoury toppings such as ham and cheese for a lunchtime snack or sweet toppings to make a dessert. We love to top our pancakes with lemon and sugar, jam and ice cream or Nutella and strawberries.