Scottish wedding traditions

Scottish Wedding Photo

Your wedding day is considered to be one of the most important days in the whole of people’s lives. This  is constant all over the world.

Notwithstanding this wedding traditions and customs are not the same everywhere, as they are also in Scotland.

A sixpence in the bride’s shoe, feet washing, creeling or wearing traditional tartan dresses, kilts and other kilt accessories are  examples of traditions that truly describe a traditional Scottish wedding. Let’s have a look at Scottish wedding traditions now and in the past…

W as When to get marry?

When it comes to the wedding, the first thing is to pick the date. Here is the first tradition: don’t choose any day from the first half of the week! Our Scottish ancestors believed that each of the day of the week brings something different, what is enclosed in the famous old rhyme:

Monday for wealth
Tuesday for health
Wednesday the best day of all
Thursday for losses
Friday for crosses
Saturday for no luck at all*.

Another part of the date is month. There is another piece of advice on which month to marry:

Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true.
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know.
Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden and for Man.
Marry in the month of May, and you’ll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you’ll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September’s shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last**.

E as early preparations

When the correct date was fixed and the wedding plans were announced, there is high time to prepare the wedding clothes.  In the past, the bride-to-be and the future groom exchanged  gifts. The “wedding Sark” was the wedding shirt, a gift from the bride. In return, the groom had to pay for her wedding dress. It’s Scotland, so the Highland tradition is to wear a kilt outfit (click here to read about kilt outfit styles). Nothing has changed through centuries, nowadays kilt, kilt jacket, sporran and kilt shoes (ghillie brogue) are as important as they used to be.

Another Highland custom was the “Creeling of the Bridegroom” which required the bridegroom to carry a large basket on his back around the whole town. It seems to be more special because of the fact that the basket was filled with stones and it had to be carried until the bride would kiss him. It was the only way that the bridegroom’s friends allowed him to stop “creeling”. Otherwise, the bridegroom had to carry the basket until he had completed going round the town.

One of the most modern way to prepare for a wedding in the country of kilts is to organize a so called “Show of presents”. The celebration is held by the bride’s mother usually about a week before the wedding day. Invited guests give the couple their wedding gifts in order to help them to establish a home. During the celebration, the bride’s mother serves tea and cakes. The show of presents, which corresponds to the bridal shower in some other countries, is a good opportunity for the wedding guests to get to know each other.

D as day before…

In the past, the evening before the wedding day was reserved for the couple’s friends and family who gathered at the one of the parents houses in order to celebrate the coming marriage. One part of the ceremony was  “feet washing”. Female friends of the future bride gathered round a tub of water to wash her feet and then smear them with soot.This was considered to bring good look as coal is always considered in Scotland and Northern England to bring good luck. The potential bride put her wedding ring into the tub and it was believed that the woman who found it in the water would be the next to be maried.

D as day of the wedding

Speaking of foot… The next day,on the morning of the wedding day, a sixpence coin was put in the bride’s wedding shoe. The aim was to help bring her good luck for this important day. Also, for the same purpose, a sprig of heather was added to the bride’s wedding bouquet.

Another significant part of the Scottish wedding are traditional clothes that are worn by the couple on the day of the wedding. The bride wears a wedding gown. Usually, the dress is in  white , but brides also choose tartan dresses. On the other hand there are grooms who wear typical, Scottish outfits including kilt, sporran, kilt jacket, ghillie brogue (kilt shoes) and other kilt accessories. The kilt is made of a specific clan tartan. The couple enters and leaves the church or registry office to the sound of bagpipes.

I as identity

Getting married in Scotland means not only being with your partner, but also being part of his or her clan. Generally, it is the bride who accept her potential husband’s clan. During the ceremony, called “Pinning of the tartan”, the groom pin a scrap of his tartan to his wife’s dress in order to signify her clan membership. Sometimes it is the groom’s mother who does the pinning, which can be much more emotional as the bride is leaving her family and joining her husband’s family.

N as night

The wedding reception usually leads off with the married couple starting the dancing. Before that the bride and groom enter to the sound of bagpipes. Then  the maid of honour or the chief bridesmaid follows closely  followed by parents close family and guests. The married couple are not the only ones who wear traditional Scottish clothes, but also the guests’ respect tradition by wearing similar clothes both men and women.

Finally, after the celebration, the married couple go to their house. The groom, in order to protect the bride from evil spirits, carries her over the threshold of their new home. This is one of the customs that has never changed throughout  the centuries. Then the officiating vicar blesses the new home and leaves the couple so that they can finally be together as man and wife.

G as Gretna Green

Gretna Green. This is the first village on  the Scottish side of the border on the road from London to Edinburgh and also the first one in the country of kilts. Historically. Scotland has its own Las Vegas. Gretna Green is famous all around the world for runaway weddings. Many visitors like Scotland and its tradition so much, so that during their Scottish weddings, they wear kilts, tartan trousers, ghillie brogue or whole kilt outfit. Women, in turn, wear  tartan dresses. Gretna Green is considered as a one of the most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year, an unbelieveable one out of every six Scottish weddings.

Nowadays, Scottish traditions are more relaxed than they were in recent centuries. Nevertheless, a lot of the Highland’s customs can still be seen during modern wedding arrangements, marriages celebrations and receptions.

* Monger G.P. Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons,
** Hagen S. The Everything Wedding Book



5 Responses to Scottish wedding traditions

  • Andrew Stackpool says:

    A well written and most interesting article, Heather. I was not aware Gretna Green still hosted so many weddings, albeit perhaps without the drama of days of yore but it is a charming thought romance is not dead in the south of Bonnie Alba. Also I have always assumed the sixpence was so the bride could get a cab home in the event she changed her mind in the kirk.
    Looking at the photo, I was unaware that a broadsword was de rigeur dress for the groom? I know well that in the bad old days clansmen would take into kirk anything short of an artillery piece but in these enlightened times I though most vicars frowned on sidearms in kirk.
    But as I said a most interesting and charming article; keep up the good work.

  • I found this to be so interesting ! Thanks for posting it.

  • Dhel says:

    i wish to have a wedding like scottish

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  • Jeff McKnabb says:

    I have heard that the broadsword, while brought in, was held by the best man as a sign of trust in the future of the marriage. May not be the case but certainly a nice sentiment.

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