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Traditions: Scottish Christmas traditions

There’s plenty to do in Scotland in the winter, and many Scots love getting in the festive spirit. But did you know that Christmas was banned there for almost four centuries?

Before the Reformation in 1560, Christmas in Scotland had been a religious feasting day. Then, with the powerful Kirk frowning upon anything related to Roman Catholicism, the Scottish Parliament passed a law in 1640 that made celebrating ‘Yule vacations’ illegal. Even after Charles II was restored to the throne, celebrating Christmas was frowned upon in Scotland for a long time – it wasn’t until 1958 that 25 December became a Scottish public holiday.

Yule to you

When in Scotland, you can wish people a Happy Christmas. Or a Blithe Yule if you want to use Scots, the national dialect, or Nollaig Chirdheil if you want to greet in Gaelic.

Hogmanay: Four Days of Reverie

The ban may have halted the advancement of Scottish Christmas Traditions, but Scottish New Year's celebrations always brighten the cold and dark winter. For nearly a week, revelers celebrate the dawn of the new year with street festivals, concerts, parties, and large bonfires. Some customs include:

Redding the House:

This annual cleaning rids the home of bad luck from the previous year and encourages good luck in the new. Part of this custom may include burning juniper branches within the house until it fills with smoke, then opening all the windows to cast out spirits.

First Footing:

As mentioned above, this longtime Scottish Christmas tradition evolved into a symbolic start of the new year.

Fire Festivals:

Throughout Scotland, communities continue the ancient Viking custom of using fire to drive away evil spirits as a way to purge the old year.

Group Performances of "Auld Lang Syne":

Scottish poet Robert Burn crafted the lyrics to this classic tune, but there are few accounts as to why it is customary around the world for people to sing it on New Year's Eve. In Scotland, thousands of people gather outside and cross arms while singing this classic song in unison.

Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles

The Celts knew Christmas as Nollaig Beag – Little Christmas. By now, the celebrations were firmly embedded in the birth of Christ, yet the pagan traditions can clearly be seen incorporated into the season. They burned the Cailleach – a log with the face of an old woman carved into it that was supposed to take away any lingering bad luck.The Celts also lit candles at Christmastime to light the way for any strangers.

Pudding time

The Scots certainly have a sweet tooth, and the wide array of Christmas puddings on offer goes to prove it. Besides the traditional British Christmas pudding, there’s rich Christmas Cake, usually iced with marzipan, as well as the equally heavy Clootie Dumpling. If you fancy something creamy go for Cranachan (see image) or that boozy sherry trifle (more of that later), and for a sweet treat with your cup of tea or coffee make it some tooth-rottingly delicious tablet.

Mince pie season

Mince pies seem to have a bit of a misleading name... but this is because they originally contained meat! As well as all the usual fruit and spices.Mince pies are a special little treat at this time of year but did you know they were not always so small?They were traditionally baked up in a huge wheel to feed neighbours and visitors but they were banned in 1583 with Yule celebrations.Bakers caught making them would be punished and asked to inform who was buying them, so they became pocket sized to make it easier to hide them. This does not make it a tradition to remove them from the kitchen in your pockets.

First footer

On Christmas day, the first visitor to your home was known as the first footer. Depending on where you research…this person would bring gifts of peat, money, and bread to symbolise warmth, wealth and lack of want. Or, bring several gifts such as a silver coin, salt, coal, evergreen and whisky. Starting as a Christmas day tradition, it later became a New Year’s Day tradition. It is acceptable for the first footer to be a resident of the house, but they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight or after, they must leave before for them to be the first footer.

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Traditions: Scottish Christmas traditions


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