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CHRISTMAS IN SCOTLAND
Trees

                                                      

Although Christmas and its customs were in disfavor for only a short time in England (during the reign of Cromwell), Scotland ignored the holiday far longer. Bear in mind that "Christmas" is "Christ's Mass" and mass was banned in Scotland. There are records of charges being brought against people for keeping "Yule" as it was called in Scotland. Amazingly, this dour, joy-crushing attitude lasted for 400 years. It has only been in recent years that the Scots observed December 25 as a special day at all. So if there is a specifically "Scottish" aspect to Christmas it is that it was not celebrated!

Christmas & New Year were equally welcomed by Scots before the Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries. All the customs of both festivals stem from that time.

The name comes from the Scandinavians, for whom 'Yultid' was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month, being the twelfth name of Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in a hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins. (Strains of Father Christmas here!)

Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The custom was to celebrate the Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the festivities began a few days later, and spilled into New Year and Twelfth Night, which was known as 'Little Christmas'. However, the French often called Christmas colloquially, 'Homme est né' (Man is Born) which is thought by some scholars to be the origin of the word, 'Hogmanay', steaming from the time of the 'Auld Alliance'.

Bees leave hives Xmas Morn. There is an old belief that early on Christmas Morning all bees will leave their hives, swarm, and then return. Many old Scots tell tales of having witnessed this happening, though no-one can explain why. One explanation is that bees get curious about their surroundings, and if there is unexpected activity they will want to check it out to see if there is any danger. As people were often up and about on Christmas night observing various traditions, or just returning from the night services, the bees would sense the disturbance and come out to see what was going on.

Divination customs - Ashes, Bull, Cailleach
There are a number of ancient divination customs associated with Scottish Christmas tradition. One involves checking the cold ashes the morning after the Christmas fire. A foot shape facing the door was said to be foretelling a death in the family, while a foot facing into the room meant a new arrival.

Another was the ceremonial burning of Old Winter, the Cailleach. A piece of wood was carved roughly to represent the face of an old woman, then named as the Spirit of Winter, the Cailleach. This was placed onto a good fire to burn away, and all the family gathered had to watch to the end. The burning symbolised the ending of all the bad luck and enmities etc of the old year, with a fresh start.