Friday, December 01, 2006

Local customs of my country: Scotland

Unfortunately many Scottish customs have died out in recent years especially in the main urban areas and the cities. However, you will still find people keep local traditions going in rural areas and in the Scottish Highlands.

Highland games

Many towns and villages in the Scottish highlands hold highland games during the summer months. Typical events are tossing the caber (a long log), throwing the hammer, a tug-of-war (two teams on each end of a length of rope try and pull each other across a line), hill races and highland dancing.

The one o’clock gun

At one o’clock every day a cannon is fired from Edinburgh castle. Watch out for a loud bang if you’re walking along Princes Street, the main shopping street. The origin of this was to let ships set their clocks to the correct time.

Opening day on the Tay

The salmon fishing season starts on the 15th January each year and on Loch Tay there is a ceremony with a piper. A bottle of whisky is broken over a boat into the loch (lake).

Riding of the Marches

Many towns in the Scottish borders have a ceremony each summer called the Riding of the Marches. This involves riding on horseback round the boundaries of the town. This was done originally to check that the boundaries were intact and that land hadn’t been stolen. It is only in recent years that women have been allowed to participate in this – it was traditionally a male dominated event. Many towns like Linlithgow have a whole week of celebrations called the Linlithgow Marches. These days it’s an excuse for people to get drunk.

There are a number of traditions linked to weddings. Many of these are British so I’ll concentrate on the Scottish ones.

A hen night is when the bride and a group of her female friends go out on the town. This used to be on the eve of her wedding but nowadays is a week or so beforehand. Traditionally the bride is dressed up with net curtains with L plates pinned on her back. The women go round the streets banging spoons against pots and pans to grab people’s attention. They take a bucket to collect money for the bride – a donation in exchange for a kiss. Nowadays hen nights are more ambitious and often involve a whole weekend abroad in some place like Amsterdam or Dublin. Likewise the men have a stag night where lots of alcohol is consumed and they might have a stripper. If the groom is unlucky, his friend will get him drunk and play some sort of practical joke on him like chain him to railings.

And it is back luck for the couple to see each other on the day before they meet at the altar. It is also bad luck for the groom to see the wedding dress before the big day.

After the ceremony someone will through coins into the air for the children to pick up. This is called a scramble.

Finally Scottish men often wear full highland dress to get married: a kilt, a jacobite shirt or a plain white shirt, tie, jacket, sporran, woollen socks with a knife called a sgian dubh (pronounced skee-in doo) tucked in and lace up shoes called brogues.

The Scottish term for April Fool’s Day is “Hunt the gowk”. This is a day where pranks are played. The newspapers might feature a spoof story. One year the BBC had a story saying that eating the traditional food of a country made it easier to learn the language. They featured pupils eating spaghetti while learning Italian.

Unfortunately a lot of our customs seem to involve consuming vast quantities of alcohol. See Clare’s article on our drinking culture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting traditions! I'm completely American, but for awhile my friends and I were obsessed with Scottish traditions...we even did our own version of the highland games involving making our own wooden caber. Thanks for sharing!

6:36 PM  

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