Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Today I learned about Christmas in Scotland

Posted by Daniexmachina

Today there will be two blogs because yesterday I fell asleep learning about Scotland. Nothing personal, Scots, I was exhausted. Anyway, continuing on with learning about Christmas in other countries, I bring you a Scottish Christmas! The Scots tend to be a rather superstitious people, which makes for some interesting traditions. Although as in Russia, New Year's is the bigger event for the Scottish. This is because, like Russia, Christmas was banned for about 400 years. The ban was lifted in the 1950s. 

In Scotland it is very important that their fire burns all through the night on Christmas Eve. If the fire goes out, malicious spirits will make their way down the chimney and into your home! The Yule Log is also important to the fire. These are usually made from a birch or rowan tree and is cut and dried over the summer. On Christmas Eve, the log is brought inside and circled three times around the kitchen. Everyone makes a toast to the Yule Log and it goes into the fire. People used to check the ashes the next day and if they were foot-shaped, it would tell the future. A foot facing the door meant a death would come and a foot facing inward meant a new arrival. 

Lighting a candle and putting it in the window is symbolic of guiding a stranger to warmth and safety. It is also a symbol of lighting the way for the Holy Family as they traveled. Many people light bonfires to dance and play bagpipes around. People sing carols such as The First Nowell, Taladh Chriosta, and Bottom of the Punch Bowl. Decorations are hung and include the colors and patterns of tartans as well as evergreen branches. 

Traditional food for Nollaig Beag (Little Christmas) are Selkirk Bannock (see above), venison stew, Scottish shortbread, Scottish blackbun and Dundee cake. The Selkirk Bannock was originally made by a bakery in Selkirk, which is where it got its name. It is a festive cake made from flour, sugar, raisins and fruit peels. The blackbun is a very rich cake made of fruit, almonds, spices and flavored with whiskey. 

Because of the ban on Christmas for hundreds of years, the modern Scottish Christmas traditions are now similar to that of the United States and Britain. With gift-giving, cards and Santa Claus. The Scottish new year festival became more popular during the time of the ban, so it is still quite big. It's called Hogmanay and it is certainly a big thing. 

Scottish people prepare for Hogmanay by cleaning their homes in a purification ritual of burning juniper branches throughout the house. Haggis is the main food of the night as well as shortbread, scones, oatcakes, cheese, whiskey, wine and black buns. For those who do not know what haggis is, it is sheep parts (heart, liver and lungs) cooked with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt. It is traditionally cooked in a cow's stomach, though modern haggis is sometimes made in sausage casing. It tastes about as good as it sounds. 

An old Scottish new year tradition still in practice today is called the "First Footer". The story goes that the first person to arrive in your home on New Year's Day would decide your family's luck for the rest of the year. This belief was based in the idea of the magic power of beginnings. The person you would prefer to see  come into your house first would be a tall, dark haired man especially if he came bearing a gift. His handsome looks would make the year pleasant and his gift of a loaf of bread or shovel of coal would ensure the house would never be hungry nor cold. Anyone of an opposite type could cause disaster, which is why many folks would contrive to have just the right person arrive first in their home. 

As at Christmastime, bonfires are popular and sometimes a straw figure called Auld Wife, symbolizing the old year, would be thrown into the fire. An interesting old tradition was to banish evil of the old year into a cat or dog and then scare it away. On New Year's Eve, everyone would link arms together and sing Auld Lang Syne. On New Year's Day, the children will rise early and go singing to their neighbors in exchange for coins, candy, mince pies or apples. The children must hurry for anyone to sing after noon would be called fools. Nollaig chridheil! 


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