Scottish Christmas – traditions for all

It’s that special time of year again, and as we all prepare for a warm, Scottish Christmas, I thought we could share some of our favourite festive traditions that remind us of our heritage and Celtic ancestry during this beautiful season.

Carol singers by candlelightAs we discussed in last year’s Christmas post, Scotland does not actually have a strong history of celebrating Christmas – due to the attitudes of the Church until the mid-1950’s, which kept it as a purely religious festival. However, in the decades since then, Christmas has become very popular here, and though Hogmany remains the biggest nationwide celebration of the winter, Christmas is observed by almost everyone in Scotland now. Gifts are exchanged, trees decorated, carols are sung, and Christmas lunch or dinner is enjoyed by all the family! In fact, Christmas celebrations in Scotland have taken many of their cues from nations such as the United States, who have a much longer history of celebrating it in a jubilant way. But there are ways to give your Christmas observations a Scottish twist. How? Read on…

Pine conesFirstly of course, since Christmas is still very much recognised as a religious celebration in Scotland, is to attend Advent Sunday Services, if you are Christian. In the Church of Scotland, a special service is held on Christmas Eve, known as the Watchnight, and the congregation will gather to reflect on the coming of Christ, sing carols, and share fellowship with one another, celebrating with embraces and blessings at the stroke of midnight. Bagpipes may be played or church bells rung to signal the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Christmas. The services are noted for often providing each parishioner with a candle with which to light the way and guide the Holy Family. The same sentiment can be seen in the tradition of placing a lit candle in a window of your home on Christmas Eve; another commonly observed tradition in Scotland, though it is not related to the older pagan tradition of leaving a lit fire to stop imps from coming down the chimney. For people attending the Watchnight, it can be a sort of game to try and get home from church without letting your candle go out, so you are sharing the same flame as lit by your minister, and in small villages you will still often see people in cars stopping by the side of the road to help re-light peoples candles to keep the original flame burning through the night.

Read about Tartan Day celebrations

Candles, fires and other warm sources of light are very important when preparing your home for Christmas in Scotland, as they chase away the bleak and cold winter nights. However, there are other more definitively Scottish ways to decorate also, and yes of course, the most popular Scottish item of all is used in abundance – tartan! Real Christmas trees look gorgeous when decorated with twinkling lights, special baubles and festooned with bows of tartan ribbon or fabric. Other people may choose to bring a bough of Scots Pine into their home instead of having a full tree, and traditional decorations taken from the natural landscape are also popular, including carved wooden items, pine cones, leaves and berries, even staghorn decorations!

Selkirk bannockSo what might you eat at a traditional Scottish Christmas meal? Nowadays of course, most people in Scotland will have a menu similar to anywhere else in the UK, or the USA and Canada as well actually! But a few things do differ on a Scottish table. Venison stew or steak pie are popular alternatives to turkey, as is salmon; a traditional Scotch broth or cock-a-leekie soup is very likely to be served, and you are more likely to see a clootie dumpling with silver coins cooked into it as lucky charms for diners to find, than the “English” equivalent of Christmas pudding. Selkirk bannock may also make an appearance. Bannocks are a type of round quick-bread, made without yeast, and the Selkirk variety is a particular kind which is very spongy and buttery and filled with fruit – almost like a cake. Bannocks have been eaten at pagan fire festivals in Scotland for thousands of years, and their round shape was originally due to some association with the sun; they remain a very popular treat, especially at Christmas!

Lear more about Burns Night food

Well, hopefully this brief article has given you all some food for thought – of course there will be as many Scottish Christmas traditions  as there are Scottish families in the world, and we know that is a great number! As always, we would love to hear from you in the comments to share your special memories and traditions for this time of year. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hogmany, and I look forward to blogging again in 2014, see you there!



12 Responses to Scottish Christmas – traditions for all

  • Eileen Lea says:

    CULLEN SKINK Soup is made from (boned) Smoked Haddock,Milk + Mashed Potts, melt small knob of butter before serving DELISH ! Also, my Aunt always put a few silver sixpences in the Fruit Dumpling. I’m in my 60’s born/bred in W. Scotland and up until I was around 10 I always had a box with 8 Tangerines, individually wrapped in tissue paper from ‘Santa’ … Eileen

  • Moira Hendry says:

    And my dad used to give us a Glass of Ginger Wine – boy it tasted good -and we used to have a ashet pie – from the butchers – for baking in the oven at Christmas and also at New Year

  • Jean Lodge says:

    Thank you for this fascinating information. I left my heart in Scotland 42 years ago after spending a year at the University of Glasgow and living with students from Scotland, England, and other places around the world.

  • It was a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky.The last thing our mom did was to sweep the front steps,all the bad stuff
    went out the door.on Hogmanay

  • Michael Paterson says:

    One of my best memories of Christmas in Inverness was going to the Christmas Eve church service and singing Christmas Carols. On leaving the service it was snowing and we had a white Christmas. I would have been about 20 years old then.

  • Catherine says:

    Hogmany in Scotland was always celebrated amongst friends and neighbours….the men worked hard all year and saved up for their bottle of whiskey…they then spent all night going around and sharing that bottle with everyone else

  • Diane Cole(Drummond) says:

    My father was always the first one thru the door at all of relatives here in Winnipeg, Manitoba , canada as he is the dark hair male and stood 6 ft. we always had shortbread on hand. My grandfather joking told me that i was a good Scot having my oldest daughter born on Robbie Burns day. I miss hearing the scottish accent of his.

  • Paul Denholm says:

    Wife and I will be visiting in Edinburgh and Glasgow in early Feb for 11 days and are really looking forward to trying out the genuine Bannock bun as I have seen so many recipes for them it will be a temperature shock leaving Aust in summer to arrive in winter but we are looking forward to the trip to all have a very happy Christmas season

  • Margaret says:

    I live in Texas. Left Scotland 45 years ago. We still eat trifle
    dumpling shortbread and mincemeat pies. My grandchildren will be wearing kilts when they come to dinner.

  • Maureenbarton says:

    My Dad was from Aberdeen and aForbes , so being in oz we tried to keep up traditions. Merry Xmas to all. God bless you all . Maureen Barton.

  • Kim G says:

    I am from Scot heritage and have enjoyed reading how Christmas is celebrated in Scotland, next year I will be adding a touch of the Scot traditions to my home … Happy New Year!!!!!

  • Isobelle says:

    Just off to a Scottish country dance on Hogmanay in Canada. We will have a lively evening … Was born in Scotland and came to Canada in the late 1950’s and still keeping up Scottish traditions.

Leave a Reply