Originally published March 2008
Fastern E’en this “farewell to meat” before Lent is the closest thing to Mardi Gras or Carnival in Scotland. It was held on Shrove Tuesday, or the last Tuesday before Lent. It was a time to use up fat, butter and meat which was made into beef brose. The day was known variously as Beef Brose, Bannock Night, Brosie, Sautie Bannock Night, Rappy Night, Shriften E’en, and Fastern E’en.
Like Carnival, it was an excuse for having some fun prior to the sacrifices for Lent. Depending on the region, people gathered for activities such as processions of craftsman, games of football or handball which were played in the town streets. In the evening there would be food, drink, music and dancing.
The football games involved two teams of men, sometimes unmarried men against married men, or one craft trade against another. By the 18th century efforts were made to change these sometimes hazardous, no-holds-barred rough and tumble games to less dangerous forms.
“Jedburgh handba” is a mass game and the ball is carried in tempestuous scrambles through houses and shops. The locked crowd of players sway through the streets barricaded windows. It is a free-for-all and all-in and the players are legion. The major, if not the only rule, and it is apparently unwritten, is that injuries should not be inflicted deliberately?
At Duns, in Berwickshire the goals were to get the ball “kirked” or “milled.” One team tried to place the ball on the pulpit of the church, the other in the “happer” of the mill. if the ball reached the mill, the miller rewarded the team with pork and dumplings and dusted their hats with flour. The games were traditionally followed by dances and celebrations lasting into the wee hours. Many towns also had specific fees or donations for the maintenance of the town?s game ball. In Strathern, young couples on their wedding day were expected to give money towards the ball’s upkeep and in other area the money came from local craft guilds.