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Scot christmas


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Scot christmas

  1. 1. A SCOTTISH CHRISTMASChristmas itself was until recent times a purely Religious festival and New Year was and stillis the main holiday for Scots. Christmas was not traditionally celebrated in Scotland becauseit was banned for nearly 400 years until the 1950s. Hogmanay was the real traditionalcelebration. The reason Christmas was not celebrated until recently goes back to the time ofJohn Knox in the 1580s as it was seen to be papist in origin - the ban was strictly enforced inlaw.Until recently, Christmas was fairly low key. It wasnt even a public holiday until 1958. Uptill then, people worked normally on Christmas day, although the children did get presents.Therefore the Christmas traditions in Scotland are pretty much the same modern US version.If you wanted to have a real traditional Scottish Christmas, you should go into work onChristmas day! In 1997/98 and 2001/2002 there were strikes at Scottish banks because thebank staff were getting English holidays rather than the Scottish ones which have more timeoff at New Year. As a result, most if not all Christmas celebrations nowadays have beenbrought in from other cultures (notable England and the US). YULETIDE CUSTOMS OF OLD SCOTLANDChristmas & 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 fromthe Scandinavians, for whom Yuletide was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month, beingthe twelfth name of Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in ahooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and he left a gift ofbread or coins. (Strains of Father Christmas here!)Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The custom was to celebratethe Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the festivities began a few days later, and spilled intoNew Year and Twelfth Night, which was known as Little Christmas. However, the Frenchoften called Christmas colloquially, Homme est né (Man is Born) which is thought by somescholars to be the origin of the word, Hogmanay, steaming from the time of the AuldAlliance.The Reformation hit Scotland as hard as everywhere else. By 1583, bakers who made theYulebreads were fined, their punishment could be lessened if they gave the names of theircustomers! In 1638 the General Assembly in Edinburgh tried to abolish Yuletide. While thesame things were going on south of the border, with the Restoration of the Monarchy camethe restoration of Christmas. In Scotland, the rigid laws of the new Kirk still frowned uponChristmas celebration, so it stayed underground. Only the High church and the Catholics keptthe old traditions going. In England many of the symbolisms and earlier religious elementswere 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 Royalfamily with its German Prince Consort. The Reformation in Germany had hardly touchedChristmas at all, and Prince Albert brought it all to the public eye.English customs were not particularly accepted by Scotland. The inherent need to celebratecame out in Scotland as a great revival of the New Year celebrations. In fact, hardly changedat all because Old Christmas comprised three days of solemn tribune, church services, fastingand hard work as well as church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Followed by a day ofCharity on the Feast of Stephen and which we now call Boxing Day. Noone would havethought much about parties and frolics until after these days were over. Then the solemnity
  2. 2. gave way to joyous and often rowdy celebration and holiday under the name of Homme estné or Hogmanay.Being intended by the reformed church, as a day of prayer, the puritanical elements graduallyclosed in on all those who defied the new laws and continued their festivities. In Englandsoldiers were chosen especially for their noses - a long nose was thought to be able to sniffout the spices in the Christmas baking better! In Scotland the bakers were encouraged to bakeand inform on their customers. In their attempts to stamp out frivolity, they prescribed thatChristmas would be a working day. So it became the custom to work over Christmas.This prevailed throughout the whole of Britain, especially in the working classes. Until 40years ago postmen, bakers, transport workers, and medical staff were commonly expected towork, but because of the Victorian revival of Christmas in England, many otherestablishments 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 tochurch before work, or at lunchtime, or in the evening. They would have a Christmas tree anda Christmas Dinner and children went to bed expecting that kindly old gentleman to call witha gift or two.CUSTOMS & BELIEFS ASSOCIATED WITH SCOTTISH CHRISTMASBlack Bun (Originally Twelfth Night Cake) It is a very rich fruit cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients arebound together with plenty of whisky. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a richshort pastry and baked.This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy from Scotlands closeassociations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the centre andsymmetrical lines around, representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on themodern Scottish shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked ontothe shortbread!CandlelightAll of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle at Christmas time tolight the way of a stranger.In Scotland it was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in everywindow to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on NewYears Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishingthem a Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you. BLOWING OUT THE CHRISTMAS CANDLEA lit candle is placed upon a table or chair and each player is, in turn, blindfolded and stoodwith his back to the candle, about two feet away. He is then told to take three steps forward,turn round three times, take four steps towards the candle and then blow it out.In the majority of cases, the blindfolded player will lose all idea of distance and position, andwhen he blows, it will be in quite another part of the room from that in which the candlestands. Of course, it is wise to have a player or two standing by the side of the candle toprevent any blindfolded person from getting too near. Dr. Daniela Martinek
  3. 3. The Origins of HogmanayWhile New Years Eve is celebrated around the world, the Scots have a long richheritage associated with this event - and have their own name for it, Hogmanay.Hogmanay Traditional CelebrationsHistorians believe that the Scottish inherited the celebration from the Vikingswho, coming from even further north than the Scots, paid even more attentionto the passing of the shortest day. In Shetland, where the Viking influence wasstrongest, New Year is called Yules, from the Scandinavian word.There are traditions before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December(including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires werecommon). There is also the superstition to clear all your debts before "the bells" atmidnight.Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns "For Auld LangSyne". Burns claimed it was based on an earlier fragment and certainly the tune was inprint over 80 years before he published his version in 1788. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, Well take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne."An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is towelcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wisheveryone a Happy New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of theold year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note."First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is still common inScotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark(believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on yourdoorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bunand whisky. Torch and Bonfire CeremoniesThe magical firework display and torchlight procession in Edinburgh - and throughoutmany cities in Scotland - are reminiscent of the ancient custom at Scottish Hogmanaypagan parties hundreds of years ago.The traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up inthe hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks. The festivitieswould also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hilland tossing torches. Animal hide was also wrapped around sticks and ignited whichproduced a smoke that was believed to be very effective to ward off evil spirits. Thesmoking stick was also known as a Hogmanay.Some of these customs do continue, especially in the small, older communities in theHighlands and Islands of Scotland where tradition, along with language and dialect arekept alive and well. On the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, the young boys form Dr. Daniela Martinek
  4. 4. themselves into opposing bands, the leader of each wears a sheep skin, while amember carries a sack. The bands move through the village from house to housereciting a Gaelic rhyme. On being invited inside, the leader walks clockwise aroundthe fire, while everyone hits the skin with sticks. The boys would be given somebannocks - fruit buns - for their sack before moving on to the next house.One of the most spectacular fire ceremonies takes place in Stonehaven, just south ofAberdeen on the North East coast. Giant fireballs, weighing up to 20 pounds are litand swung around on five feet long metal poles, requiring 60 men to carry them asthey march up and down the high street. The origin of the pre-Christian custom isbelieved to be linked to the Winter Solstice of late December with the fireballssignifying the power of the sun, to purify the world by consuming evil spirits.And it is worth remembering that January 2nd is a holiday in Scotland as well as thefirst day of the year - to give us all time to recover from a week of merry-making andcelebration, all part of Scotlands fascinating cultural legacy of ancient customs andtraditions surrounding the pagan festival of Hogmanay. • • • Dr. Daniela Martinek