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  • Jim
    Dec 11, 2005
      ------------ STONEHAVEN GENEALOGY ------------

      ----- WEEKLY UPDATE – DECEMBER 11, 2005 ------


      by Kris Haynes

      Over the last 15 years I have made Bridal Bouquets,
      and helped in decorating tables and halls for
      weddings. If you are a bit of a romantic, then
      weddings have a special air of their own which is
      vastly different to any normal gatherings or

      I am always on the lookout for interesting ideas
      for decorating etc.

      This site has information on SCOTTISH WEDDINGS.
      Do you know where some of our traditions handed
      down today actually came from?


      Just a sample from the site:

      Feet washing

      A tub of water was placed in the best room, in which the bride placed
      her feet, her female friends then gathered around to help wash them.
      A wedding ring from a happily married woman was previously placed in
      the tub and it was believed that whoever found the ring would be the
      next to get married.

      The men folk were outside the door making jokes and attempting to
      watch through the doorway. The bridegroom was then seized by the
      women and made to sit at the tub. His legs were none too gently
      daubed with soot, ashes and cinders - quite a painful procedure!

      Interesting other facts about Weddings and Scottish Weddings

      The website gives an explanation of the Something Old, Something New,
      Something Borrowed and Something Blue, as slightly different to the
      ones I had heard.

      The Wedding Cake - Ancient Romans would bake a cake made of wheat or
      barley and break it over the bride's head! Why? Well you can read
      that on the website.

      Why is a mirror a bad luck omen to a Bride the day before her wedding?

      What is the custom of "Creeling the Bridegroom"? Is it painful, and
      what does his Bride have to do to spare him this fate?

      Well you will find all those answers on the website as well.


      by Thomas A Cameron

      How might a Scot celebrate Christmas today?

      Many individuals believe that there are few remaining traditions for
      such a celebration; they are greatly mistaken. Many customs, both old
      and new, survived the antipathy of the post-reformation period in
      Scotland. Looking back away, Christmas itself was banned in Great
      Britain by an act of Parliament in 1652, citing it as pagan and "pope-
      ish." When the holiday was reinstated, a decade or so later, it never
      truly regained what it had been in Scotland, a very special time of
      the year. How can these traditions, mostly dating back well over 350
      years, be incorporated into your Christmas plans?

      Let's begin with the tree. German in origin, the Christmas tree is
      obviously significant to the holiday itself, but in ancient days it
      was juniper and mistletoe that decorated the homes of the Highlands.
      Their presence was a sign of the much sought after greenery that the
      Scots hoped for during the long winter months and a symbol of love.

      Today, the Christmas tree of Scotland, if there were such an official
      distinction, would have to be the Scots Pine, the only pine native to
      Scotland. A trip to your local tree farm, as a family, might serve
      tradition well, of course artificial Scots Pines are also very
      pleasant these days, and well worth a look.

      Taking place long before the holiday season, a Yule log is selected
      from a supplier of firewood. This "burning heart of the season, the
      living symbol of all the warm emotions and bright thoughts," in
      Scotland at least, must be Birch wood. If one is taking the
      traditional route the log must be cut at least by the summer time and
      allowed to dry properly. It should be size consistent with the
      capacity of modern fireplaces; the larger the better, of course
      discretion is advised, since it must not be split. Stripped of its
      bark, the yule log may be displayed at the beginning of the holiday
      season next to the fireplace, decorated with greenery and plaid

      On Christmas Eve, the tradition is that the log must be brought (if
      previously displayed, then brought outside first) into the home in
      ceremonial fashion, with the men of the family walking in line,
      oldest first (carrying the log), followed by the next oldest and so
      on. This peculiar group of Scots must tour the kitchen three times,
      then place the birch near the fireplace, where the head of the
      household makes a traditional Christmas toast: "Joy, Joy. May God
      shower joy upon us, my dear (wife, children, family...). Christmas
      brings us all good things. God give us grace to see the New Year; and
      if we do not increase in numbers may we at all events not decrease."

      Some clansmen choose this time to toast the Chief, others just
      observe a moment of silence. The log is then placed into the fire,
      which has been kindled with the remaining wood from the previous
      year's Yule log. This in itself is an interesting practice, unusual,
      but nevertheless interesting.

      Each year the remaining wood from the Yule log is placed under the
      bed of the lady of the house as a "charm" against fire, the idea
      being that the wood is saving it's own fire to kindle next Christmas'
      hearth. It is considered the worst of luck (after all, superstitions
      were prevalent in the Highlands) to let the fire go out on Christmas
      Eve, since that was the time when the elves are abroad and only a
      good, roaring fire will keep them from slipping down the chimney to
      help themselves of one's Christmas Eve meal, among other things.

      Whether these are the same elves that "Santa" uses is doubtful and
      the parents are responsible with the task of allowing the fire to
      burn down to a safe level in the early morning hours as to let Santa,
      or as his kilted counterpart is called, MacNicholas or Father
      Christmas, safely enter with presents for all.

      Christmas Eve fare traditionally consists of Scottish versions of
      mince meat pies, wassail and fresh oatmeal bread. The mince meat pies
      are an age old favorite in Scotland, commonly being replaced by
      bridies, meat pies or pasties. In times gone by, the pie was shaped
      rectangular, to represent the manger in which Jesus was born. The
      traditional mince meat pie used to actually contain minced meat, but
      over the years has been taken over by dried fruit and spices, leaving
      only a few ounces of suet in the original recipe. All considered, the
      bridies and their kin are far more suitable replacements for the
      Scottish family.

      Wassail, another British favorite, is unique in Scotland. The drink
      usually consists of ale, roast apples, eggs, sugar and spices, but
      Scotch has found its way into the ingredients north of the River Esk.
      This drink is routinely made for the entire family, both young and
      old, by substitutions that render it a mulled and spice apple cider
      with personality. It is customary to leave a meat pie and some
      wassail out for Father Christmas to partake of during his long night
      of delivering presents.

      Rounding out this evening's light menu is hot, fresh, homemade bread,
      traditionally oatmeal based. On a cold winter's night, with the
      family gathered together, nothing compares to the mingled aroma of
      fresh bread, mulled wassail, meat pies, fresh-cut pine and kindled,
      fired wood.

      As for the entertainment, one practice of olden-times is worth

      A month or so before the holidays, a member of the family is
      appointed to be in charge of Christmas festivities. In the past this
      individual was called "The Abbot of Unreason" and was responsible for
      entertainment, merrymaking, mayhem and laughter. Before they too were
      banned by an act of Parliament, they oversaw activities in large
      families, courts and towns. Dressed in mock clerical robes, they
      planned everything from games to skits to song and dance. While the
      robes and title "Abbot" are long gone, this tradition is significant
      in that it brings laughter and activity to a holiday that is usually
      quite sedate.

      Traditionally, the main skit involves a hero who is brought to the
      brink of death through his or her gallantry, only to be revived by
      what might be called a peculiar doctor figure toward the end. This
      type of skit or play is called mumming, and has been performed
      throughout Great Britain for countless generations. The characters
      will usually seek out makeshift costumes and masks during their
      mumming and are led by "The Abbot" in their merrymaking. Many
      families plan these skits and other acts at the last minute and the
      main share of the action goes to the children, much to the amusement
      of the adults. Of course, parents are regularly drawn into action,
      either at the request of the Abbot or simply to share in the fun.

      First thing Christmas morning family members awaken to the smell of
      their own piping-hot bowl of new sowens, which is brought to them in
      bed. Traditionally the husks and siftings of oats, boiled to the
      consistency of molasses, their modern day equivalent would be oat
      bran, which is available at natural health stores. If this sounds as
      generally unappetizing as it truly is, regular oatmeal will do just
      fine, served with generous additions of butter, cream and sugar. Once
      each family member finishes their sowens, they may proceed promptly
      to the Christmas tree, where they may longingly inspect their wrapped
      presents while awaiting the rest of the family.

      Christmas day is usually a quiet, pleasant time which is spent
      visiting family, attending church services and just possibly seeing a
      return visit by everyone's favorite (or by this time not so favorite)
      the Abbot of Unreason. The yule log is restoked, since no one would
      want the elves to enter and abscond all the newly acquired presents
      and the Christmas feast is prepared.

      Over the years many main dishes have become traditional in the
      Highlands, namely: Roast Angus Beef, Roast Goose, Venison, Salmon,
      Chicken, Pheasant and Boar, to name just a few. As for side dishes,
      vastly popular are: plum porridge/pudding, cock-a-leekie, lamb stew
      and "neeps and tatties." Bowls of fruit, numerous pies and sweets are
      also found in abundance during the feast.

      Regardless of the effects that the reformation had upon Christmas,
      traditions do still exist in Scotland and with those of Scottish
      descent. Some might seem a bit peculiar, or out of place, but
      nevertheless they remain in the memories of Scots worldwide.
      Embracing just a few of them, or possible adapting them to one's own
      vision of Scottish tradition will ensure that they never truly

      About Author

      Thomas A Cameron is the Northern U.S. President of the Clan Cameron
      Association. He may be emailed at: CLANCAM1@...



      Christmas & New Year were equally welcomed by Scots before the
      Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries. All the customs of both
      festivals stem from that time.

      The name comes from the Scandinavians, for whom 'Yultid' was the
      festival celebrated at the twelfth month, being the twelfth name of
      Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in a
      hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the
      people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins.
      (Strains of Father Christmas here!)

      Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The
      custom was to celebrate the Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the
      festivities began a few days later, and spilled into New Year and
      Twelfth Night, which was known as 'Little Christmas'. However, the
      French often called Christmas colloquially, 'Homme est né' (Man is
      Born) which is thought by some scholars to be the origin of the
      word, 'Hogmanay', steaming from the time of the 'Auld Alliance'.

      The Reformation hit Scotland as hard as everywhere else. By 1583,
      Bakers who made the Yulebreads were fined, their punishment could be
      lessened if they gave the names of their customers!

      In 1638 the General Assembly in Edinburgh tried to abolish Yuletide.
      While the same things were going on south of the border, with the
      Restoration of the Monarchy came the restoration of Christmas. In
      Scotland, the rigid laws of the new Kirk still frowned upon Christmas
      celebration, so it stayed underground. Only the High church and the
      Catholics kept the old traditions going.

      In England many of the symbolisms and earlier religious elements were
      lost, and it took the intrepid Victorian historians to gather
      together the remnants and re-establish Christmas, an effort which was
      helped by the strongly Christmas orientated Royal family with its
      German Prince Consort. The Reformation in Germany had hardly touched
      Christmas at all, and Prince Albert brought it all to the public eye.

      English custom was not particularly accepted by Scotland. The
      inherent need to celebrate came out in Scotland as a great revival of
      the New Year celebrations. In fact, hardly changed at all because Old
      Christmas comprised three days of solemn Tribune, church services,
      fasting and hard work. Church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

      Followed by a day of Charity on the Feast of Stephen and which we now
      call Boxing Day. No-one would have thought much about parties and
      frolics until after these days were over. Then the solemnity gave way
      to joyous and often rowdy celebration and holiday under the name
      of 'Homme est né' or Hogmanay.

      Being intended by the reformed church, as a day of prayer, the
      puritanical elements gradually closed in on all those who defied the
      new laws and continued their festivities. In England soldiers were
      chosen especially for their noses a long nose was thought to be able
      to sniff out the spices in the Christmas Baking better! In Scotland
      the Bakers were encouraged to bake inform on their customers. In
      their attempts to stamp out frivolity, they prescribed that Christmas
      would be a working day. So it became the custom to work over

      This prevailed throughout the whole of Britain, especially in the
      working classes. Until 40 years ago postmen, bakers, transport
      workers, and medical staff were commonly expected to work, but
      because of the Victorian revival of Christmas in England, many other
      establishments closed, while in Scotland shops and many offices
      stayed open.

      However, this did not mean that people did not celebrate Christmas.
      Often they would go to Church before work, or at Lunchtime, or in the
      evening. They would have a Christmas Tree and a Christmas Dinner and
      children went to bed expecting that kindly old gentleman to call with
      a gift or two.


      Black Bun. Originally Twelfth Night Cake. It is a very rich fruit
      cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients
      are bound together with plenty of Whisky. The stiff mixture is put
      into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.

      This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy
      from Scotland's close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were
      baked with a hole in the centre and symmetrical lines around,
      representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on the
      modern Scottish Shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient
      slices marked onto the shortbread!

      Bees leave hives Xmas Morn. There is an old belief that early on
      Christmas Morning all bees will leave their hives, swarm, and then
      return. Many old Scots tell tales of having witnessed this happening,
      though no-one can explain why. One explanation is that bees get
      curious about their surroundings, and if there is unexpected activity
      they will want to check it out to see if there is any danger. As
      people were often up and about on Christmas night observing various
      traditions, or just returning from the night services, the bees would
      sense the disturbance and come out to see what was going on.

      Divination customs - Ashes, Bull, Cailleach

      There are a number of ancient divination customs associated with
      Scottish Christmas tradition. One involves checking the cold ashes
      the morning after the Christmas fire. A foot shape facing the door
      was said to be foretelling a death in the family, while a foot facing
      into the room meant a new arrival.

      Another was the ceremonial burning of Old Winter, the Cailleach. A
      piece of wood was carved roughly to represent the face of an old
      woman, then named as the Spirit of Winter, the Cailleach. This was
      placed onto a good fire to burn away, and all the family gathered had
      to watch to the end. The burning symbolised the ending of all the bad
      luck and enmities etc of the old year, with a fresh start.

      The Candlemas Bull was in reality a cloud. It was believed that a
      bull would cross the sky in the form of a cloud, early on the morning
      on Candlemas, February 2nd. From its appearance people would divine.
      An East travelling cloud foretold a good year, south meant a poor
      grain year, but if it faced to the west the year would be poor. This
      custom was a remnant of the ancient Mithraiac religion, when the Bull-
      god would come at the start of Spring to warn of the year the farmers
      could expect.


      All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a
      candle at Christmastime to light the way of a stranger. (See LIGHT IN

      In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles
      were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on
      Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave
      their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them
      a 'Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you'.


      It was and still is the custom for a stranger to enter the house
      after midnight on New Years Eve/Day. There were taboos about the luck
      such a stranger would bring, especially in the days of hospitality to
      travelling strangers. A fair haired visitor was considered bad luck
      in most areas, partly due to the in-fighting between the dark scots
      and the fair Norse invaders. However, in Christian times, a fair
      haired man was considered very lucky providing his name was Andrew!
      Because St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland. A woman is
      considered taboo still in many areas!

      The Firstfooter must make an offering, a HANDSEL. This can be food,
      drink or fuel for the fire. The ritual which have grown up around
      this custom are many. An offering of food or drink must be accepted
      by sharing it with everyone present, including the visitor. Fuel,
      must be placed onto the fire by the visitor with the words 'A Good
      New Year to one and all and many may you see'. In todays often
      fireless society the fuel is usually presented as a polished piece of
      coal, or wood which can be preserved for the year as an ornament.

      Sayings eg : Is blianach Nollaid gun sneachd - Christmas without snow
      is poor fare.



      The area of North America now known as Nova Scotia was colonised by
      the Scots in 1625, but they were forced out in 1632 by the French,
      who had a prior claim to the region and named it 'Acadia'. It only
      reverted to Nova Scotia in the 18th century, following the British
      conquest of French Canada.

      CHEERS from your Stonehaven Genealogy Committee

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