Have you ever wondered how the holiday season is celebrated in other countries? This week, the (Christmassy) spotlight is on Scotland and its traditions at this time of year. Scotland is not only a great place to visit during a Spring or Summer vacation, but also during the wintertime. No one does Christmas or New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) quite like the home of the tartan, the Highlands, and the Loch Ness monster.
A lot of people are not aware of Christmas in Scotland and its distinct past. In the year 1560, Christmas was associated with the Roman Catholic Church, and was therefore dubbed as something not to be celebrated by the Scotland Church. As a result, the holiday was banned in the country for about 400 years. Christmas wasn’t recognized as a public holiday until 1958, so many traditions practiced today have North American and English influence.
In more modern times, a lovely native Scots pine tree is decorated with ornaments, holly and berries. Many Scots listen to the recording of the Queen’s Christmas speech on television as 3pm on Christmas day. Decorated cardboard paper tubes, known as Christmas Crackers, are pulled and create a small ‘POP’ noise before they release a variety of trinkets and small toys. The best thing found in these Crackers? Paper crowns. The idea of wearing a paper crown is said to have originated from the Twelfth Night celebrations, where a King or Queen observed the proceedings.
Sit down for a traditional Scottish meal at Christmas, and you’ll probably find roasted turkey, potatoes, stuffing and the like. A lovely dessert is served in the form of Scottish Christmas pudding alongside brandy butter, rum sauce, custard or fresh cream.
New Year’s Eve
Perhaps the bigger celebration in Scotland is known as Hogmanay – the Scottish take on ringing in the New Year. Since Scots had to work on Christmas for so many years, a lot of emphasis was (and still is) placed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Unlike the Christmas holiday ban, this celebration was something everyone was allowed to celebrate.
Festivities begin on December 30 with a torchlight procession along the Royal mile in Edinburgh. Attendees are joined by pipes, drums and Up Helly Aa’s Vikings. The next day, a Hogmanay street party commences. This is their amazing answer to watching the ball drop in Times Square. With the majestic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, everyone is welcome to dance the night away at the Concert in the Gardens with live music, giant screens and outdoor bars. Once the clock strikes midnight, the famous Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne” is sung and the world-famous Edinburgh Hogmanay Midnight Fireworks go off.
A great way to clear your head on January 1st (following a few too many not-so-wee “drams” of whisky) comes in form of the Loony Dook party. This annual splash in the River Forth at South Queensferry welcomes thousands of visitors each year dressed in the wackiest attire before they take a plunge in the freezing river.