Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating A Scottish Christmas with Willa Blair

Would You Like to Celebrate a Scottish Christmas?




While Christmas, or Yule as it was once called, is celebrated in modern Scotland with many of the same trimmings as in America, it’s a more subdued affair.  Christmas was banned in Scotland in the mid-16th century because it was seen as a Catholic holiday by the Protestant Reformation.  That ban lasted nearly 400 years, until the 1950s. 




During that bleak time, a few old traditions survived, most derived from ancient midwinter celebrations.  Candles in windows were once meant to light the way to warmth and safety for travelers out in harsh winter weather.  Now candles are everywhere, from windows to Christmas tree branches, though we’ve modernized that fire hazard into strings of LED lights.  




The yule log was borrowed from the early Norse invaders to light the longest night of the year and provide an omen, good or bad, of the coming year in its ashes.  Scots also believed that the fire burning all night kept spirits and sprites from coming down the chimney and entering the house to do mischief.  No wonder Santa Claus didn’t visit. 











How things have changed!  We’re more likely to eat a yule log than light one on fire.  There are many versions of yule log cakes, from the simple jelly roll to gorgeously decorated holiday cakes.

          



So if Scots didn’t celebrate Christmas, what did they do?  Scotland has a long history of trade with France due to the Auld Alliance, and the term for Scotland’s New Year celebration, Hogmanay, is believed to have been derived from a French phrase for Christmas. Gifts were given for Hogmanay rather than Christmas, and special feasts celebrated it.  On New Year’s Eve, houses were cleaned to clear away the old year.  Candles lit the way for the First Footer, a tradition that survives today.  The first person to enter the house after midnight on New Year’s Eve/Day, preferably a tall, dark-haired, male bearing a gift of food, fuel, or whisky, brings good luck to the house and those within it.  The preference for dark hair may come from the time when light hair was associated with Norse invaders.




Yule logs, outdoor bonfires, and other fire ceremonies may have fallen out of favor, but the modern equivalent - fireworks - are a big part of New Year’s Eve celebrations all over the world. 





Nowadays, Scots celebrate Christmas, Hogmanay, Boxing Day, all the way through Twelfth Night.  So if you want to celebrate the holidays in Scotland, be prepared to stay a while.  If you just want to celebrate like a Scot, stock up on food and single malts, light some candles - or the LED equivalent, invite your friends, and enjoy! Merry Christmas, and have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!



Cheers!
Willa





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