WEEKLY UPDATE DECEMBER 11, 2005
- ------------ STONEHAVEN GENEALOGY ------------
----- WEEKLY UPDATE DECEMBER 11, 2005 ------
WEDDINGS & THEIR TRADITIONS
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:
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.
DREAMING OF A SCOTTISH CHRISTMAS
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
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,
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
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
Thomas A Cameron is the Northern U.S. President of the Clan Cameron
Association. He may be emailed at: CLANCAM1@...
YULETIDE CUSTOMS OF OLD SCOTLAND
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
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.
CUSTOMS & BELIEFS ASSOCIATED WITH SCOTTISH CHRISTMAS:
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
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
THE WINDOW IRISH CUSTOMS)
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.
SCOTTISH TRIVIA DID YOU KNOW?
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.
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