Scottish Christmas

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!

Scottish spirit under the Christmas tree

Gadget CasesAs November begins the Christmas atmosphere takes hold for good and buying gifts comes to the forefront of everyone’s minds; rich Christmas trees in town squares, decorations in shopping centres (hopefully with some featuring Scottish tartans!) and lots of festively themed slogans on the storefronts calling to us to make our holiday purchases. With every merchant out there claiming their goods as “the best” for friends and family alike, let’s try to find the truth and look at this year’s top Scottish trends for festive gifts.

See also: Tartan through everyday products

Electronic devices are still popular, as they have been for several years now. These devices are becoming more and more a part of everyday life for many segments of the population, from young children playing games, to teenagers communicating with friends, businessmen working during their commute, or even retirees staying in touch with a global family! But when the person you have in mind already has all the gadgets one could wish for, what’s left? One wonderful idea is a high-quality protective case, perfect to ensure that no harm comes to the delicate and important device within – and to add a touch of Scottish culture, it must of course be tartan! As tartan is a popular fashion trend as well this season, nothing could be more fitting – and personal too since the range of tartans available nowadays makes it possible to find any family or commemorative tartan one could wish for.

Glasses, Clan CrestedHowever, while electronic devices, and their cases, are carried by people almost all day, there is a gift which has a special role to play while relaxing in the evenings. A fine pair (or more) of whisky glasses is an essential item for any true Scotsman’s liquor cabinet, and for full throttle whisky enthusiasts only a bottle of the Water of Life itself would rival the gift’s popularity! Beautiful crystal glasses can be engraved with clan crests and other meaningful symbols or messages as well, making this present even more special in linking together the Scottish sensibilities of appreciating their culture and family as much as a fine dram.

Tartan RugAnother item to ensure a pleasant winter’s night (though warming in a different way than the whisky will be!), is a tartan rug. Now available in a range of luxurious wools, including cashmere, and a huge range of tartans, this makes a universally popular Christmas gift. Just imagine curling up cosily under the thick, soft blanket, with a hot cup of tea, watching Christmas trees lights blinking merrily while outside all is cold and snowy. Who wouldn’t enjoy this? Therefore, you can be sure this type of gift will be pleasing to almost anyone, except perhaps the very young – who would rather be outside building snowmen – but at least everyone else can watch them in comfort!

Read about contemporary kilt alternatives

Tartan SocksBut if the blanket seems to be too excessive for someone, try instead a tried and true present idea – socks! Many people avoid these as a gift now, since they have such a reputation for being an over-used and boring gift, but no one will expect tartan socks under the tree or in their stocking on Christmas morning! Another great present fitting in with this category would be kilt hose for the Scotsman in your life. Perhaps a colour they haven’t tried before such as lovat blue, ancient green or a soft charcoal grey – or go for the superiorly luxurious hand knitted Clansman style? But if you’re intimidated by these choices, the usual black or cream hose are always a popular choice; they go with every kilt and no Scotsman can ever have too many pairs of these!

Learn more about Scottish Christmas

This Christmas season is sure to bring lots of joy and happiness to you all, at least in part through the gifts exchanged between well-loved family and friends as we celebrate together. As you anticipate what you will find under the Christmas tree on this December 25th remember to hold the Scottish spirit of Christmas dear, and think of how you can impart this to your loved ones as well. With the tartan trends rising high again this winter the beloved pattern won’t be difficult to find and incorporate into your own special festive celebrations!

Traditional Scottish Christmas

Christmas GiftsThis time of year is special to so many people, with so many traditions and festivities to look forward to. We hope you are all organised, and anticipating a fun festive period with all your friends and family, wherever in the world you are!

Here we are all certainly looking forward to a traditional Scottish Christmas…or as traditional as one can get anyway! Since, for much of Scotland’s history, the celebration of Christ’s birth was banned, Scotland is unusual in the Christian world in that we still have many old pagan superstitions and traditions surviving, and that we celebrate New Year much more exuberantly – in fact we are world famous for our Hogmany parties! Today we will look at some Christmas and New Year celebrations from Scotland, I hope you find it interesting, and perhaps it will give you some ideas of traditions you can incorporate into your own festive period!

Mid-winter celebrations were first introduced to Scotland by Vikings in the 8th century, and Scottish traditions remain firmly rooted in this pagan past, having much in common with traditions from Scandinavian countries. The tradition of the Yule Log stems from this association, when a special hardwood log would be burned, often on the shortest day of the year (normally December 21st or 22nd), although alternative dates included Christmas itself or even at the New Year. The fire from this log would be started with a re-lit piece of the last years log, and ensure prosperity and protection for all gathered round the hearth for the coming year. Related to this is the burning of Old Winter, the Cailleach. In this superstition, a crude likeness of an old woman would be carved into a piece of wood, and this thrown into an already burning fire. This tradition represented the destruction of the cold winter goddess, and the welcoming back in of longer days and the promise of the summer to come.

Christmas Candles

Many of Scotland’s Christmas traditions centre around fire and light, as a northern country we get as little as five hours of daylight as this time of year, and some things never change, so cosy fires and flickering candlelight are still a comfort against the harsh winter! Perhaps as a side effect of the previous superstitions, certainly as an excuse to stay toasty warm all night, another tradition dictates that a fire should be kept burning all through the night on Christmas Eve, lest any mischievous or evil spirits find entry into your home down the chimney!

Even more traditions surround the welcoming of the New Year however, in Scotland this time is known as Hogmany (the exact origin of this name is not known), and if you visit during this time you will witness some of the biggest parties and celebrations around! One very old tradition is that of first-footing. This tradition holds that, to bring good fortune for the coming year, the first person to cross your threshold should be a tall, dark man, with coal for your fire, food for your bellies and a wee dram of whiskey, a very important component to Scottish life – sometimes called “the water of life”! The food he would traditionally bring are; shortbread, salt and black bun, a very dense sticky type of fruit cake. More fire festival activities take place around New Year, such as dressing in animal skins, lighting bonfires and carrying out processions through Highland villages and towns where links to the Norse past are still very strong. Even in the Lowlands however New Year is a great time to party, perhaps in part due to the banning of Christmas celebrations for so long. In fact, the Scottish custom was to exchange gifts on the first Monday of the New Year, in a practice known as haundselling, money was a popular gift but if you gave a physical object it could not have sharp edges, as superstitions said this would cause you to cut the relations between you and the recipient of the gift. Over time this tradition has faded and Scots now exchange gifts at Christmas instead, like the rest of the UK, however if it lovely to hear about all these old traditions and try to keep a little bit of them alive today!

Edinburgh's Hogmanay

How do you plan to incorporate your Scottish roots into your celebrations this festive season? Perhaps by holding a little gift back and surprising a loved one on “Haunsel Monday”? Or, in the absence of old fashioned fireplace, maybe just keeping a candle burning the night through on Christmas Eve? Or maybe you have different traditions we haven’t yet heard of! Whatever your plans we’d love to hear from you, and hope to see you again the New Year!