Traditional Scottish Christmas

"How do you celebrate a traditional Scottish Christmas?"
This is a question that a good number of visitors from overseas have asked me, as well as how we celebrate Hogmanay or Scottish New Year, and of course Burns Supper.

Well, I’m sure if you read any books on the traditions you’ll find some very ancient, wonderful and interest facts. But we live in the 21st century and sadly many of the old traditions aren’t kept today like they used to be. Instead you will find a very modern Christmas in homes and hotels everywhere. Of course one thing that a traditional Scottish Christmas has with the rest of the UK is that normally at 3.00pm on the television is the recording of the Queen's Speech. Some don't bother watching it, but it is a tradition that we still like to follow in our home.

By the way, if you're interested in finding out a bit more about our Customs then browse our Scottish Customs, Traditions and Culture Bookstore. You might find some interesting books on how we celebrate St Andrew's Day as well as Valentine's Day.

Traditional Scottish Christmas - image of Christmas Wreath

The Setting. Please remember that in Scotland we have VERY short days at the end of December. It is dark until around 8.30 am and again about 3.30pm in the afternoon. Indeed the shortest day is the 22nd December. The weather is usually quite cold, but not as bitter as other countries. But these short days can be quite depressing. So the Christmas festivities and lights really cheer people up.

There are many homes now which do not have an ‘open fire’ as central heating and imitation gas and electric fires have taken over. I feel very fortunate in that we have a little inglenook fireplace and love to have a log fire on a cold, dark evening. We can do the traditional things like roasting chestnuts and I could sit for hours enjoying the glow of the embers. A tradition in our home is also to have lots of lovely candles around the place. I particularly like the sweet–smelling cinnamon ones, or other warm and winter perfumes.

One question I have been asked is what date do the Scots have Christmas. I realise of course that for many people from different parts of Europe and indeed the world this is not a strange question, as some countries celebrate St Nicolas Day.

Traditional Scottish Christmas - image of Christmas Tree and Fireplace

We celebrate the Traditional Scottish Christmas on the 25th December. The day before is called Christmas Eve, and the day after (26th December) is called Boxing Day (also known as St. Stephen's Day (when Good King Wenceslas looked out). 'Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the Feast of Stephen...........' This day is a National Holiday, not just in Scotland but in the whole of the UK.

The Origins of Boxing Day go back to when the rich, or the Lord and Lady the Castle or Estate on the day after Christmas Day gathered together all their staff and organised the distribution of gifts, done according to the status of the worker and the size of the family.

Cloth, leather goods, new tools and supplies of salt and spices as well as food such as meat, fish, vegetables, and some fruit and cereals grown on the estate for bread making. They were presented in BOXES, thus the day became known as "Boxing Day".

I have no idea if the Lord or Lady of the Manors still do this ( I doubt it). But nowadays Boxing Day usually hails the first day of the Winter Sales, and folk trail round the shops looking for bargains.

The Tree The use of the tree has its origins in Germany, but like many other countries we now have a Christmas Tree. Garden Centres and other shops provide locally produced trees or buy in imported one. However, I personally think there is something wonderful about having the native Scots Pine as a traditional Scottish Christmas tree – it has such a lovely aroma and feels very festive. You can buy fresh trees, cut-off trees and artificially ones of every shape and size. My own preference is to use a Fresh Living tree (which needs watering in the central heating, the lovely fresh smell of the pine against the cosy warmth of the indoors is delightful. Many put up brightly coloured lights, I personally prefer plain white.

Although many still like a fresh tree, I think many Scots have joined the 21st century and gone for the imitation tree, often with fibre-optic lights built in. It doesn’t drop its needles and make a mess the way a fresh one does.

Tradtional Scottish Christmas - Tartan ribbon

The Decorations. Once again my personal favourite decorations are to hang holly (with berries), making them into a fresh wreath and garlands up the stairs and over the mantle piece, over a log fire. I love to decorate the tree simply with tartan ribbon made into bows. I have changed the colour ‘theme’ ie blue tartan one year, reds another etc. But I have to say I think I am unusual.

The trend for gaudy (and sometimes tacky decorations has hit our stores. Of course they’re not all tacky; some are lovely and you can also get some nice tasteful traditional Scottish Christmas Tree decorations. When I was young we put up lots of ‘paper’ chain decorations, and today you can buy every type of decoration; gold coloured, silver coloured and every shape, size and colour under the sun.

Many people decorate the outside of their homes with brightly coloured (or one-colour) lights and often on trees. There isn’t really a set time for people putting up decorations and lights. Some do it at the beginning of December, others wait until Christmas Eve.

The traditional Scottish Christmas Day Menu

Seeing a beautifully-laid table for Christmas Dinner is a sight to behold. One tradition we still have is the use of Christmas Crackers. These are pulled, and create a wee 'bang' and inside is a variety trinkets such as a joke, a wee toy or gift (depends on the quality of the cracker) and the inevitable paper hat. EVERYONE (yes, I thin almost everyone)sits though Christmas Dinner wearing a silly paper hat! (see the picture of the Christmas Cracker with the mince pies)

Over the years many main dishes have become traditional for Christmas Dinner. Roast Turkey is still in my opinion the most popular, but whether in a family home, restaurant or Hotel, many other dishes are often on the menu.

Starters: Perhaps it’s because of the cold weather, but soup is often served as a starter. It could be Cock O Leekie Soup, Carrot and coriander or something more exotic. Another starter might be smoked salmon. In my home we tend to have something ‘lighter’ than soup (as the main course is usually large) such as melon served with ginger and port.

Traditional Scottish Christmas Roast Turkey Dinner

Main Courses: The traditional Scottish Christmas Dinner is usually Roast Turkey, served with Roast Potatoes, Roast Parsnips, stuffing (either forcemeat and/or chestnut), bacon rolls and chipolata sausages, brussel sprouts, carrots, peas (and any other vegetables people choose). This is usually served with gravy, bread sauce and cranberry jelly.

Other meats people choose are Roast Angus Beef, Roast Pork, Roast Goose, Venison, Salmon, Chicken, Pheasant or even steak pie, depending on taste and preference).

Tradtional Scottish Christmas Pudding

Dessert: The delicious and Traditional Scottish Christmas Pudding is usually served, either with brandy butter, rum sauce, custard or fresh cream. Others might make the similar dish of 'Clootie Dumpling'. However, these are all 'heavy' desserts - lighter alternatives might be a trifle or Crannachan, made with raspberries, whisky, cream and oats.

Traditional Scottish Christmas Mince Pie and Crackers

Of course the famous mince pies (sweet pie that is) is served at some time throughout the day. The traditional Scottish Christmas Cake is also served during the day - this cake is a rich fruit cake with marzipan and royal icing on top. A variety of homemade Shortbread or sweets (candy) might also be available such as Tablet. Of course many people still have fruit and nuts as well as chocolates and other 'fattening' stuff available.

People tend to serve their own favourite drink whether soft or alcohol with the meal, although I think the trend is usually wine, and the type of wine and 'Proper Wine Etiquette' depends on the menu.

If you've enjoyed reading about the traditional Scottish Christmas, have a look at some of these other pages:

Scottish Hogmanay Customs - Discover how we celebrate Hogmanay or New Year's Eve.
Burns Supper - Discover this famous Meal which celebrates the birth of our famous Poet Rabbie Burns.
Valentine's Day in Scotland. - Did you know that the remains of St Valentine are believed to be in Scotland? Find out more.
Scottish Recipes - Check out some of the famous, authentic and traditional Scottish recipes.
Mothers' Day - A simple menu of Cottage Pie followed by rhubarb crumble.
Christmas Cake - Do try this recipe for a traditional Christmas cake.
Clootie Dumpling - This rich and traditional dish is a favourite all year round but especially at Christmas time.
Black Bun - This is traditionally served at Hogmanay when bringing in the New Year.
Weights and Measurements - Whatever recipe you want to try, this simple guide to weights and measurements and Oven temperatures might help.
Cullen Skink - This famous fish soup is made with smoked haddock.
Trout in oatmeal - This traditional and famous dish made with local ingredients.
Roast Venison - Make Christmas, Thanksgiving or other celebration special by serving roast venison to your guests.
Best Scone Recipes - Try the plain, fruit or the cheese scones.
Famous Shortbread Recipes - Have a look at some variations of shortbread recipes.
Haggis - Try this world-famous dish.
Pretend Haggis - This pretend haggis might be something you wish to try.
Forfar Bridie - Try this filling meat 'pastie'.
Raspberry Recipes - See what you can do with a punnet of delicious raspberries, including the famous dessert, Crannachan.
Scotch Broth - See the recipe for hearty Scotch Broth.
Scotch Eggs - A simple recipe for you to try. Can be served hot or cold.
Scotch Pancakes - A quick, inexpensive treat for your guests.
Potato Scones - Serve Potato (or tattie) scone as part of the traditional Scottish Breakfast.
Tablet - Indulge in this delicious, but sweet Scottish confectionery.
Scottish Leek Soup Recipes - Try these two famous Scottish Leek Soup Recipes.
Scottish Lorne Sausages - Try this everyday dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Scotch Pies - This Traditional pie is made with mutton or lamb.
Traditional Fish and Chips in Batter. - If you're visiting Scotland - do try this from a good Fish and Chip Shop. But if you want to make it yourself, here's the recipe. Serve with 'mushy' peas.
Stovies - Try this simple, everyday dish, can be made with lamb, corned beef or even sausages.
Christmas Pudding - Enjoy this delicious rich fruit pudding, traditionally served on Christmas Day.
Meaning of the Scottish Flags - Have a look at the history of the Scottish Flags and see what they mean.
Proper Wine Etiquette - a really useful article on wine etiquette.

Make some time to browse out Bookstores - you might find lots more information you are looking for:-

1.   Guide Books and Maps Bookstore - Select and Buy your Guide Books and Maps before you visit.

2.   General Books on Scotland Bookstore - See a good selection of books about Scotland.

3.   Golf in Scotland Bookstore - There are so many books on Golf that I felt this had to be a category on its own, especially as St Andrews in Fife is the "Home" of Golf.

4.   Scottish Language, Customs and Culture Bookstore - Whether you're looking for some history, Dictionary of Scottish Words, or information on all sorts of our culture eg Hogmanay, you'll find a selection of books here that might just fit the bill.

5.   Music and DVDs Store - You'll find a wide selection of some favourite Scottish Music such as Pipes and Drums, Fiddle, Accordian music and many famous Artists including The Proclaimers and Lulu.  There's also a selection of  DVDs which will introduce you to some of the sights of Scotland including Castles.

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