As December approaches, your thoughts surely turn to the every year’s problem – what to give to your loved ones? Even though you might know your best people well, the perfect gift is always a problem – so we’ve decided to help you and come up with some Scottish Christmas Gifts inspirations!
For a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend
Choosing a keepsake for your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend shouldn’t be an ordeal, but overthinking may be catastrophic. If you’re looking for something for your lass, giving her tea-towels or a tartan fridge magnet playing Scotland the Brave might cause a Christmas break-up (but could be considered a nice thoughtful gift for an elderly aunt you’ve not seen for 20 years).
The classic choice is of course jewelry. There is a broad selection of items to choose from, but if your special lass is Scottish, you should consider something with a Celtic design. Celtic knots are always in fashion! We especially recommend the Scottish-made items, from brands such as Sheila Fleet, Kit Heath, or Ortak, as they guarantee high quality materials and a quirky blend of traditional and modern design, while you can support Scottish-based brands. And your girlfriend will surely be delighted too A nice trinket box will be an excellent addition and makes a great replacement for wrapping paper. If your girl prefers more practical gifts, we suggest something made of cashmere. Sweaters, tops and especially shawls – soft and silky, they will keep her warm even during the coldest winter days.
When you seek a gift for man, the easiest thing is to see if he’s into Scottish history. If he’s a proud member of a Scottish clan, a clan-crested item might put a smile on his face. A dirk or sgian dubh – the traditional weapons – will be nice accessories to wear with his kilt outfit. They’re usually beautifully engraved and finished, so when not hidden in his hose or a scabbard, they will be an original yet charming home decoration element.
If your man owns a Prince Charlie outfit, he’ll surely be bowled over by the gift of a new fly plaid! This element of a Highland Dress always brings attention, and looks fabulous if worn correctly. Remember that it’s suitable only for the most formal occasions.
If your man is proud of his heritage but not really keen on tartans and flashes, there are plenty of other options. A quaich (traditional Scottish drinking bowl) or simply a book on his clan’s history, will certainly make him happy too!
If you think that picking a present for your BFF is easy then you’re wrong! And not because you don’t know what to buy – the selection is so broad that it’s hard to choose just one or even several things. If your friend won’t just tell you straight ahead what he or she wants under the Christmas tree – don’t worry, we’ve got a few ideas. The best gifts are personal – so maybe you should think of printing and framing some photos instead of putting them on Facebook! There is a broad choice of Celtic-themed photo frames, which you can combine with a funny mug (or tankard!) and perhaps a small trinket you know a friend would like and use – a keyring, Celtic compact mirror or a badge.
Giving your loved ones wonderful gifts is always a pleasure, but it’s sometimes preceded by a torturous process of choosing. You may know your closest kin well, but what about this aunt we’ve mentioned before? You should consider something neutral, yet not too impersonal. Gloves, a hat or cap is always a classic (we recommend Lyle and Scott – again, support Scottish brands!), but you can instead choose a patterned pashminas or a traditional tammy hat. When you want to emphasise your heritage, a glass of malt whiskey will always be helpful. A bottle of the Water of Life with some tumblers or a nice engraved flask will please any true Scot. If there are music lovers in your family, a traditional Celtic CD album might be also a good option. If you’re looking just for a small keepsake – we recommend cufflinks, kilt pins or a brooch.
When you’re looking for a gift for the smallest Scots, you might get a little overwhelmed by the choice of items. If you want to pass on the heritage from the earliest years, there are baby kilt outfits! Don’t worry, as they are designed with comfort first and foremost in mind. Every little Scot will look absolutely adorable in a miniature kilt, hose and booties! If you’re looking for something for slightly older children, there are soft tartan teddy bears, but our advice is to get more creative. There are kilt outfits for older boys too of course, but a boy will certainly be the most interested in his own sgian dubh (already blunted, so don’t worry that someone will get hurt). If it comes to girls, a billie kilt skirt or a tartan cape should satisfy every little princess
…and if you left buying the presents for the last moment…
…you may always purchase a gift certificate! The present surely will be perfect
Love them or hate them, it can’t be denied that bagpipes are the quintessential sound of Scotland. In this blog post, prepare to learn more about these “instruments of war”, used to celebrate, commemorate and even intimidate, throughout much of Scottish history!
Although bagpipes are thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, possibly dating back as far as 4000 BC, the instrument spread throughout Europe during the early part of the second millennium AD. Unsubstantiated claims for their use in Scotland date from around 1300, but the first concrete evidence of “warpipes” being used in their traditional role on the battlefield comes from writings about the Battle of North Inch in 1396. This early association with the military has always stayed with the bagpipes; their penetrating notes were used to unsettle the enemy, and communicate with allies. The unique construction of bagpipes means that the high pitched and VERY high decibel shrills and skirls emanating from them can be heard for several miles, and with their aggressive tones they quickly supplanted the horns and trumpets which had been previously popular.
Modern pipes are made of four main sections; the blowpipe, chanter, bag and drones. Traditionally, the bag would have been made from a full animal pelt, in the distant past goats, sheep, even cows and dogs were used to make this part of the bagpipes! In modern times, thankfully it is more common for synthetic materials to be used for the bag – with a fabric covering often made from tartan – either the official band tartan, or the regional sett, or for soloist pipers their own clan design. The bag is a reservoir for air blown by the piper; as the bag is continually squeezed under the piper’s arm while playing the air is forced out through the drones to create sound. Five sticks emerge from the bag, three drones, a chanter and a blowpipe, and we will look at the role each of these plays now.
Read about Orkney
The blowpipe is used to inflate the bag; the pipe will prefill the bag before he starts to play then continue to keep filling the bag while playing. The blowpipe is usually made from hardwood though the exact wood type varies, and new techniques in the manufacture of this essential part of the instrument mean that pipers can fill bags more easily – leading to a smoother sound and more ease of playing. Unusually for a wind instrument, no reeds are played by the mouth directly, the blowpipe is just a filling device, and the reeds are contained within other areas of the pipes.
Also made from hardwood, the Great Highland Bagpipes has three drones – two tenors and one bass. Essentially, the drones create the music when the pipes are played; each one has a reed contained within and they can be tuned to different keys. As the air escapes the bag a constant low “droning” noise is heard, the distinctive noise of the bagpipes and the reason for this part’s name! When the bag is squeezed harder, more air escapes, increasing the volume and pitch of the drone, with the tone differing depending on the piper’s finger position.
The chanter is the most well-known part of the bagpipes, and is essential for player input. Held by the piper in both hands, the chanter is a long stem drilled with holes acts as the finger-board. As the player moves his fingers to cover or uncover the holes, the airflow within the instrument changes and the notes differ, just like with instruments such as the clarinet or flute! It was traditionally made from Scottish woods such as holly or laburnum, then later from exotic hardwoods such as cocuswood or ebony, though nowadays synthetic materials which are easier to maintain are also popular. Chanters can also be purchased with a mouthpiece attached, separate from the bagpipes themselves, as practice instruments.
Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings
Using a practice chanter can be essential for new players. Playing the pipes properly is a whole body effort – you must blow air into the pipe constantly, squeeze the bag under one arm at a controlled level to ensure the air is escaping at the desired pressure, and keep up with precise patterns of covering and uncovering the holes of the chanter to create notes – all while keeping the drones balanced on your shoulder and making sure no part of the unwieldy and large pipes slips or is dropped by accident! Understandably, this is very difficult to master all at once, so practicing just on the chanter allows the piper to thoroughly learn the finger movements required without the pressure of managing everything else all at the same time. As they gain more experience they can move onto using the full pipes, though many pipers will return to the practice chanter when learning a new piece of music until they are confident of their performance.
Bagpipes are often played in Scotland as part of an ensemble of pipers and drummers. All the pipers play the Great Highland bagpipes and provide the melody and complexity of the music, with the mixed drum corps providing the rhythm from a selection of snare drummers, tenor drummers and one (or occasionally two) bass drummers. Musically, the band follows the direction of the pipe major, though when on parade the drum major may be responsible for leading the band on their route and keeping time with a mace. The pipers almost always play traditional arrangements, but the drum scores are often composed by the drum major himself – and the drummers are judged not only on performance, but also on how well their drumming complements and suits the traditional sections played by the pipers during competitions.
It is in pipe bands that the bagpipes military roots can be seen most clearly; with drums and pipes being truly historic in their use on the battlefields, to provide direction or convey commands, to boost morale or to strike terror into the hearts of enemies. All battalions of the Highland Regiment still have pipers, and the practice has also been adopted by many other Regiments, not to mention civilian entities such as police forces, fire brigades or universities.
Read about Kilt Accessories
As a solo instrument the Great Highland Bagpipes are also popular, from christenings to weddings, ceilidhs or funerals, even in modern times no Scottish life event is complete without a piper. Soloist pipers play an especially important part in traditional weddings, where they will often compere the event to keep things running smoothly (especially during the speeches!) as well as playing the bride down the aisle, providing accompaniment as the happy couple leave the church or registrars, and again when they enter the reception to be welcomed by their friends and family.
As Scotland continues to develop and grow into a strong 21st Century nation, the bagpipes continue to be a vital and vibrant part of its citizens lives; traditional soloists are everywhere, in our personal lives, working in partnership with Highland dancers, or even busking on the streets of our beautiful cities. Pipe bands bridge the traditional and the modern with innovative drumming and amazing displays of virtuoso technique. Even more encouraging, the pipes have been adopted by modern musicians in rock bands – or rather rock music has been adopted by pipers! With groups such as the Canadian Real MacKenzies, or Scotland’s own Red Hot Chilli Pipers blending electric guitars and punk vocals with the traditional sound of the bagpipes, it can truly be seen that this instrument goes from strength to strength and is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most defining features!
As we have previously discussed the importance of jacket and sporran styles in determining the formality and meaning of your Scottish kilt outfit, we thought it was about time we discussed a few other types of kilt accessory which can impart certain meanings, and which have rich histories of their own.
Firstly we shall look at the sgian dubh, the small ceremonial knife worn tucked into the top of your kilt hose. Knives have been carried by Scotsmen since time immemorial for daily tasks such as preparing food, cutting leather, whittling wood, and also for personal protection in the rough Highland environment. Probably evolving from the term “sgian achlais”, the Gaelic term for “armpit knife”, “sgian dubh” translates as “black knife” or “hidden knife”, and refers to a concealed weapon.
When Highlanders visited friends, family and other allies however, they would be required by courtesy and etiquette to disclose the presence of any weaponry about their person. Men moving the knife from their “oxter” (armpit) into their hose would meet this requirement but still allow convenient access to the blade for any necessary tasks. Over time, as day-to-day life in the Highlands became less fraught with danger of inter-clan strife, it was no longer needed to conceal the knife at all, and the sgian dubh took its now familiar place in the kilt hose at all times, though retained its old name with the history behind it. As with the sporran, as time went on the sgian dubh developed from a basic and serviceable knife to an ornamented accessory with different styles suited to different types of event. Unlike the sporran however, which is still a very useful item for the modern kilt wearer, most modern sgian dubhs are sold pre-blunted and cannot be used as proper knives due to modern legislation forbidding carrying dangerous weapons publically.
Full dress sgian dubhs are the most popular style, and they are appropriate for many types of formal event, but less so for casual wear. These often have black resin or leather-wrapped handles and sheaths, and feature ornamentations such as Celtic engraving designs, clan crests, coloured stones set into the handle, and other details. For higher end full dress sgian dubhs, the stones will usually be semi-precious, and the ornamentation may be made with sterling silver or other precious metals, but pewter and coloured glass are also frequently used to achieve a stylish appearance on a lower budget to great effect. Another style growing in popularity thanks to its versatility is the blackwood handled sgian dubh, which is much simpler in appearance but still may feature some metal ornament, and is suitable for formal and casual events. For casual situations, due to restrictions on carrying weapons, many men now just forego wearing the sgian dubh altogether, as it is not so essential to have the complete Highland look for simple events. However, others prefer to still carry on this tradition, and these men will often choose to wear a carved handle sgian dubh made from wood or resin with no metal ornaments or set stones, or perhaps a sgian dubh which uses reclaimed stag horn for its handle, as these give a much more casual and understated look.
Next up, an often overlooked aspect of Highland clothing – the kilt flashes! Kilt flashes are worn with the elastic “garter” tucked away underneath the rolled over top of your hose, providing a valuable service in holding up the long woollen socks, and giving a more polished overall appearance. The pieces of fabric displayed to either side are now purely decorative, but in times past the garter would have been a simple piece of cloth knotted around the calf for many people, and these protruding pieces of fabric have now become the flashes we recognise today! Tartan flashes, made specially to match your kilt, are growing in popularity, but the traditional approach would have been to pick a couple of colours from your tartan and use these for your hose and flashes. For example, the MacDonald Modern tartan has a green and navy ground, with black and red stripes. When wearing this kilt, black kilt hose with red flashes would draw these colours out to more prominence nicely. For tartans where the different colours are in almost equal proportion, you can select one colour and use it in the shirt and hose, and a darker shade for the flashes, an example of this could be the Heritage of Scotland, where the navy shade could be used for the hose and shirt colour, and black for the flashes. This way your shirt and hose frame the kilt nicely and you don’t have the concern of an overwhelming number of colours distracting from the main focus of your outfit – the kilt of course!
Finally for today, we are going to consider the popularity of clan crested items. These accessories can take almost any form, from sgian dubhs and sporran, to kilt pins and cap badges, to tie clips and cuff links even! These items are an excellent way to add an extra touch of clan decoration to your outfit, especially if your family tartan is not well known, or is an unusual variant, as they allow acquaintances to identify your affiliations easily. The clan markers originally began as a simple sprig of a plant, if your clan was for some reason associated with this. However one plant could be affiliated to several clans, so the practise never really took hold as an official means of identification. Clan badges became popular during the Victorian period, when all things Highland and Scottish were very much in vogue, and generally consist of the clan crest and motto, encircled by a strap and buckle design. Only the clan chief, or his chieftains (leaders of the off-shooting septs) may wear the crest and motto in a plain circlet; this is enforced by the Lord Lyon of Scotland, who protects the rights of the owners of crest and other heraldic devices. The chief may also display his higher status by wearing three eagle feathers behind his badge; chieftains may wear two eagle feathers, and armigerous clan members, i.e. clan members who have been granted their own crest, may wear one silver eagle feather.
As the majority of Scots however are not clan chiefs or armigerous clan members, the strap and buckle design is by far the most commonly seen, which is why goods made in this fashion have become so popular. Traditionally speaking these badges were most commonly worn on the cap or glengarry, or holding the fly plaid in place, however, since these are very much a recent fashion in Highland wear terms, the other forms are gaining a foothold – especially as it means you may finally have a “kilt” accessory which you can wear even with trousers and normal suits, such as in the case of cuff links and tie bars! A very popular way of modern day clansmen being able to show their kinship and pride in their ancestry at any time!