Scottish Customs and Traditions

There are so many Scottish customs and traditions that we can only touch the surface here. But people from all four corners of the globe know that we are nation rich in history and culture, and many of our traditions have been adopted throughout the world. If I asked 1,000 people from around the world what they associated with Scotland or Scottish customs and traditions, we would get a variety of answers.

To some it would be the scenery, to others whisky or golf, or some of the folklore such as Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Other folk would think of men in kilts and Highland dancing; while others might think of bagpipe music. Perhaps some scientists among us might think of all the inventions made by famous Scots such as the telephone and television or the discovery of penicillin, while others might remember that the great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was a Scot.

Others would be reminded of the Scottish Customs and Traditions such as Hogmanay and of course our strange tongue with the singing of Auld Lang Syne around the world every New Year - a song which was written by our most famous Poet, Rabbie Burns, but few people understand. Ex-pats might think nostalgically of Burns Suppers or even create their own wherever they are, or perhaps they might think not so much as eating haggis but having a good plate of Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas, or having a cup of tea with some fresh shortbread. But certainly to many, the food and drink is indeed very much part of our Scottish Customs and traditions.

Our Special Occasions and Holidays

Some Scottish Customs and Traditions are important to us and some are marked every year in our diaries.

  • St Andrews Day - is celebrated on 30th November every year. I have to say I don't think we make as much of this as I think we should.
  • Christmas Traditions - a Scottish Christmas is very similar to Christmas throughout the world.
  • Hogmanay and New Year - Ah! Here we Scots have our very own unique Hogmanay Customs. The practice of 'First-Footing' and having a Ceilidh is still so popular today and of course the singing of Auld Lang Syne has been one that has been adopted throughout the world
  • Burns Night - the 25th January is the day where Scots throughout the world celebrate the life and work of our famous poet Rabbie Burns with a Burns Supper.
  • Valentine's Day - is on 14th February. It is interesting to note that the remains of St Valentine are believed to be in Glasgow. Learn a bit more about Valentine's Day in Scotland.
  • Mothers' Day or Mothering Sunday" is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday) in Scotland and the rest of the UK. See how Mothers' Day in Scotland developed.
  • Easter - is celebrated here as it is in every Christian country, so it can hardly be described specifically as ourely Scottish Customs and Traditions. One tradition, however, is to have a special family meal on Easter Sunday, the main course almost always being roast lamb.

Our Food and Drink

Many Scottish Customs and Traditions are centred around our food such as the "Piping in of the Haggis" at a Burns Supper. There are so many famous Scottish dishes that are famous around the world, from the Haggis, to the lovely crumbly shortbread, or delicious scones and homemade raspberry jam; from Cullen Skink, the famous fish soup and Scotch Broth, to the Forfar Bridie, the famous Scotch Pie and Lorne Sausage. Other famous dishes are Christmas Pudding and Black Bun and the other rich fruit treat of Clootie Dumpling which are often served at Hogmanay and New Year. Have a look at some of the Authentic Scottish Food Recipes - and check out the list of recipes at the bottom of the page.

Of course, other Scottish customs and traditions stem from our world-famous whisky, (or 'whiskey'). Of course, reams has been written on this subject and experts will give you unlimited advice on every aspect of enjoying this National Drink, from the type of glass to use, to the aroma and the very 'sipping' of this golden nectar.

Our Dress and Highland Games

The sight of a Scotsman in full Highland Dress is indeed a site to behold. Perhaps you are not sure of the difference between Plaid and Tartan, or are confused about the other things such as 'flashes' that are worn with the kilt, or indeed you might be asking yourself the age-old question of what do Scotsmen wear under their kilts. Part of culture is also the famous Highland Games which are held throughout the country during the summer months. Here, you will see people dressed the national costume and you can observe all the different competitions such as the Dancing Events, or at other parts of the area the Music Competitions will be taking place and of course the Athletic Events especially the tossing the Caber are great fun to watch.

Our Language

Although Gaelic is the language that some traditionally see as Scottish, in reality few Scots speak it, although it is still used in the Islands and some parts of the Highlands, and there has been a resurgence in recent years to increase the number of Gaelic speakers that it is taught in some schools. But our own version of English is the main language used. But we have a very distinct dialect and 'own' words, which means we actually speak what I will refer to as 'Scots'. However, the old 'Scots' language of say Rabbie Burns has mellowed somewhat over the years and I think there are many Scots today especially the young folk who might have a hard time understanding some of the poetic works of Burns. Yet there are still many words which are uniquely Scottish, so much so that Dictionaries have been written to help people understand the language.

Of course, as in all parts of UK, each area has its own distinct accent. The people from Glasgow speak with quite a different accent to those from Edinburgh or Aberdeen, and some accents are very 'strong' that even fellow Scots can have difficulty understanding. So, if you're planning to visit, learn some of the vocabulary, and tune your ears to learn new words and phrases.

If you are interested in learning more about our language, traditions, myths and customs, then browse our Customs and Culture Bookstore for some good bargains.

Our Flags and Symbols

Something unique in our Scottish customs and traditions is that we have two flags. The Blue and White Cross of the St Andrews Flag (known as the Saltire) is recognised throughout the world, and it also makes up part of the Union Jack of Great Britain.

But of course, in Scotland we also have the Lion Rampart Flag. Other symbols recognised as uniquely Scottish are the Celtic Cross (often made into beautiful jewellery today) and of course our famous flowers of heather and the bluebell. If you want to know more about this or even buy a Saltire or Lion Rampart Flag - check out the page on The Meaning of the Scottish Flags.

Our Folklore, Myths and Legends

I can't mention Scottish customs and traditions without mentioning some of other things which make us famous. From sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, or our famous Haggis, tales of ghosts and other bizarre stories, Scotland is full of folklore, myths and legends.

Our Religion

Much of the Scottish customs and traditions come from Scotland's pictish past and early Christianity changed completely during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. Book after book has been written about our religious history, but I just want to briefly touch here on the modern face of religion in Scotland. The Protestant "Kirk" or "Church of Scotland" is recognised as the National Church. It is believed that around 20% of people are Roman Catholics. The Reformation left Protestants and Catholics in conflict with each other and even though that conflict has lessened over the years it's still left its mark. There are still separate schools for Catholic and Protestant children, and it even spilled over to our two famous and opposing Glasgow Football Teams ie Protestants support Rangers and Catholics support Celtic.

However, like most places in the UK, you will find a variety of other Churches such as Baptists, Episcopalians, Brethren Assemblies, Quakers, Methodists, Church of Nazarene, Pentecostal, Charismatic and a variety of other Independent non-conformist Churches.

There has also been a strong Jewish community for a very long time and in recent years with so many immigrants entering Scotland we have seen many other religions emerge such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism to name but a few.

There are also many people who have no beliefs at all, while some claim to be 'Christian' in order to have their children baptised, get married and/or buried in Church, but in reality give little or no thought to any real beliefs in God.

If you've enjoyed this introduction to Scottish Customs and Traditions, see also the following pages:

Traditional Scottish Christmas - Discover how we celebrate Christmas here in Scotland.
Hogmanay Customs - a wee look at how we celebrate bringing in the New Year.
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 Food Recipes - Try out some of our famous dishes.
Mothers' Day i- Discover how this special day developed in Scotland.
Meaning of the Scottish Flags - Have a wee look at the different flags, their origin and meaning.
Tartan and Plaid - Discover the difference between tartan and plaid.
Kilts and Flashes - Learn a bit more about our National Dress.
Highland Games - Look at some of the categories of Highland Games event.

And do check out our Bookstores:-

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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