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LIVING TRADITIONS

Guising

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Each island has its own guising traditions, but the Outer Hebrides and Shetland had the more unusual forms. In Shetland a blend of Celtic and Norse traditions created the distinctive straw Skekler costume. Skekling died out over 100 years ago but would traditionally have taken place between mid-October and mid-January.  

 

The Skeklers would go from house to house dressed in costume and preforming skits in exchange for money or food. They could not show their faces until the householder had correctly guessed their identity. Unusually, they would also disguise their voices by speaking on an in breath. 

Skekler outfit from Shetland Museum & Archives   © JJ Jamieson, Shetland

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The Outer Hebrides have two similar events. In South Uist on Oidhche Shamhna (Halloween), guisers traditionally wore sheepskins, including the skulls, alongside straw wigs, to hide their identity. Although Halloween has nowadays become more commercialised, there are still some areas in Uist where the old traditions are still adhered to. These include hiding your identity and not revealing it until the householder has guessed who you are, presenting a joke, song or dance as a party piece, before you receive your sweets or money, and the big guisers going out after the children have gone to bed.

A similar event took place in other areas on Oidhche na Bliadhna Ùire (Hogmanay) and Oidhche Challain (the Old New Year) when gillean Challain (boys) would dress up in sheepskins and go house to house. They would circle the house or the fire in the house in a sunwise direction several times while chanting special Duan Challain blessings to ward off evil spirits for the coming year. This tradition had died out on most other islands by the 1970s, but the island of Berneray still upholds it.  Each year the children dress up on Oidhche Challain and visit all 130 houses. Any householder who does not allow entry or reward the guisers risks a curse on their house for the coming year.

Click on links below to listen

ORAL HISTORY FROM SHETLAND

ORAL HISTORY FROM ORKNEY

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Watch a short film of children dancing at Halloween in South Uist c. 1932

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© Film from the Margaret Fay Shaw Photographic Collection by permission of Canna House, the National Trust for Scotland. This may not be reproduced or copied without permission from the Canna House Archivist.

 

Watch a film about Oidhche Challain in Berneray, which was recorded in 2007

@ Comann Eachdraidh Bhearnaraigh.  Filmed & edited by UistFilm.

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