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Scottish Christmas Traditions


Celtic History Newsletter
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Scottish Christmas Traditions

Just a few miscellaneous tidbits on holiday traditions.

Christmas Eve was often seen as a good time for divination. One
tradition was to have every unmarried person present break an egg and
drop the contents into a glass, the shape that the white of the egg
formed was interpreted to indicate the occupation of their future
spouse. The eggs were then mixed with milk and oatmeal and baked as a
cake, if the cake should break while it was baking it was a sign of
bad luck.

The ?Cailleach Nollaigh,? the Christmas Old Wife, or ?Yeel-Carlin?
are all names for a a symbol of cold and death. It was tree stump
(preferably oak) that is cut by the head of the household and carved
into the shape of an old woman. It was burned in the fire on Christmas
Eve where it had to burn completely to ash so that death would bypass
the house in the coming year.

The burning of rowan at Christmas was a sign of burning away mistrust
and jealousy between family, friend or neighbors.

Yule Bread was an unleavened bread similar to a bannock. It some areas
it was baked at specific times on Christmas Eve between noon and six,
in someplaces, or in Banff during the 1800?s it was cooked over the
?Yeel-Carlin? between 8 and 9 pm. In some areas they were make one for
each member of the family, and the person who found a trinket baked
into their Yule Bread would have good luck.

Yule Ale was was brewed specially for Yule and made from hops, root
ginger and molassas.

Farmers sometimes went into the byre, or stable on Christmas Eve to
read a chapter of the Bible behind their cattle and horses to protect
them from harm in the coming year.

On Christmas Day the first person to open the dorr in the morning
would prosper the most that year. A table or chair would then be
placed in the doorway, covered with a clean cloth and set with cheese
and bread, or bannock for visitors.

On the morning of Christmas in Uist the old men would ask the younger
men to row their boats from the shore 707 strokes of their oars before
casting their lines in to water. And fish that are caught are then
given to the poor or elderly as a tribute to St. Peter, king of

First Footing was a Christmas tradition as well as it?s better known
aspect of Scottish New Year?s traditions. The first person visiting
the house that day must not come empty handed, but must carry bread,
money and peat symbolizing plenty of food wealth and warmth for the

Animals were given a special breakfast on Christmas. A sheaf of corn
and a sheaf of oats were hung on a rowan tree for the wild birds, and
owners of cattle fed them from their own hands on Yule morning.

Yule-tide loaves were baked of leavened rye flour, or ?main bread? was
baked with an impression of Jesus or the Virgin. Richly seasoned oat
bread was baked in some areas, and became a specialty of some bakers.
When the Calvinists turned away from celebrating any holy days except
for the Sabbath the baking of Yule Bread was banned in 1583 and bakers
were told to turn in any superstitious customers who continued to ask
them to supply it.

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The Celtic Croft
MacGregor Historic Games

[Originally Published Dec 02, 2007]

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