Customs and Rituals

  • Blackening

    This is a ritual usually perpetrated upon a soon to be married man before his wedding, but in some places (see above example from Kirkwall in Orkney) carried out by and on females! Workmates and friends organise and carry these out. More widely this involves the soon-to-be-married man being caught, stripped of much of his clothing (at least to the waist) and tied up. He is then 'blackened' (traditionally with tar, soot or sometimes treacle) then covered also with flour and/or (traditionally) feathers. He is... Read More

  • Bonspiel

    A bonspiel is a curling tournament (curling: two teams of four players compete by ‘throwing’ two granite curling stones each). It is traditionally held on a frozen loch (lake) and can last 2 or 3 days over a weekend. As a result of milder winters and the requirement that the ice should be at least 7 inches thick for safety reasons, these outdoor games now rarely take place. The word may be a combination of both Scots and Gaelic - ‘spiel’ is northern European (to which Scots is related) for ‘play... Read More

  • Bridal traditions - Scottish

    Sixpence in the Bride's Shoe A sixpence (silver coin) placed in a bride's shoe is believed to bring her good luck. Possibly related to the last line (less well known than the rest) of:

    Something old, something new Something borrowed, something blue And a silver sixpence in her shoe
    Each of the above is believed to bring good luck and a happy marriage. "Something old" for continuity with the past and with her family; . "Something new" to bring hope for... Read More

  • Burns Supper

    A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and work of the poet Robert Burns. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet's birthday, 25 January, sometimes also known as Robert Burns Day or Burns Night (Burns Nicht), although they may in principle be held at any time of the year. Burns Suppers are held across the world. Burns suppers are most common in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but occur across the globe wherever there are Burns Clubs, Scottish Societies or expatriate Scots. Burns suppers may... Read More

  • Burry Man of South Queensferry

    The Burryman or Burry Man is the central figure in an annual procession which takes place on the second Friday in August in South Queensferry, north of Edinburgh, on the south bank of the Firth of Forth. The custom is associated with, but separate from, the town's Ferry Fair. The meaning and origins of this ceremony are now unclear. The Burry Man himself is a local man almost completely covered, as the image illustrates, in sticky burrs, leaving only the shoes, hands and two eye holes exposed. On the day, h... Read More

  • Chinese New Year

    The Chinese community in Scotland, originating from both Mainland China and Hong Kong, numbers just over 10,000 people with the most significant population in Glasgow. Charing Cross and Garnethill are two areas of Glasgow that have become Scotland’s Chinatown. Like other Chinese communities worldwide, the Scottish Chinese have their own New Year celebrations, which have now become a significant feature of the Scottish winter cultural calendar, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Organisations such as t... Read More

  • Cockenzie and Port Seton Gala

    Cockenzie and Port Seton Gala day is held annually on a Saturday at the end of May/beginning of June. Floats carrying fancy dress contestants and local Primary School children selected to be ‘the court’: ‘Queen’, ‘Ladies in waiting’, 'Queen’s Escort’ and assorted followers. All move off in a parade through the villages of Port Seton and Cockenzie starting at the Port Seton Centre. The first stop on the route is to lay a wreath at the local war memorial on the green. The parade then contin... Read More

  • Comrie Flambeaux

    As the bells ring out on Hogmanay people line the streets of the Perthshire village of Comrie to watch their annual procession welcoming in the New Year. A pipe band leads marchers carrying flaming torches (made of long thick birch poles with tarred rags tied to the top) who are followed by the fancy dress parade. At the end of the proceedings the torches are thrown over the Dalginross Bridge into the River Earn (traditionally believed to cast out of evil). Everyone then gets on with another more widespread... Read More

  • David Macbeth Moir wreath laying ceremony

    A wreath laying ceremony is undertaken annually by The Old Musselburgh Club to mark the birth of Musselburgh man, David Macbeth Moir. This takes place on the Sunday nearest to the actual date of 5th January. Members of the Club attend a religious service in each of the Musselburgh churches in a yearly rotation after which they gather at the statue where a tribute is read by their President. Poet and physician, David Macbeth Moir, was born at Musselburgh in 1798. Moir, hailed locally as a genius, starte... Read More

  • Dookin' for Apples

    Dookin' for apples normally takes place in a large bucket of water. Around a dozen apples are allowed to float around the surface and the player tries to pull out an apple using only their mouth. A clever player may try and align their mouth with an apple stalk to remove it from the water otherwise the player has to try and take a bite of the apple whilst removing it from the bucket. If a player takes too long they may find their own head being dooked into the bucket by those waiting for their own turn and ... Read More

  • Egg rolling at Easter

    Method: using boiled eggs, wait until these have cooled down, and then paint. The decorated eggs are then taken to a gentle hill (or other appropriate place) and "rolled". The rolling of the egg symbolises the rolling away of the stone from Jesus' tomb at Easter. Although as a kid and from years of experience with my own children the symbolism is lost as they munch though a mound of chocolate. Our local hill is always littered with eggs and shells and serves as a feast for the local wildlife. Chocolate ... Read More

  • First-footing

    A First foot (or 'fit') is the first person to enter your house or cross your threshhold after midnight on 31st December or Hogmanay. Traditionally a dark-haired man (or even a coalman) was thought to bring good luck, but anyone can be your first foot and you can be anyone else's. Again traditionally, when first-footing, you should take a lump of coal (fuel), whisky and Black Bun (sustenance) to the household. ... Read More

  • Fish supper

    The 'Fish Supper' consists of fish (commonly haddock in Scotland) deep fried in batter with chips purchased from a 'Chip shop'. It is traditionally served wrapped first in brown paper, then in newspaper in order that the food should retain its heat on the customer's journey home. This is more than a foodstuff in Scotland - it is truly a tradition. The traditional question from the Chip Shop proprietor to the customer on serving the delicacy: 'Anyhin oan it?' can be met with the reply,'Sauce an salt' i... Read More

  • Fishing Superstitions

    Perhaps because of the hazards of their occupation or their mutual reliance, fishing communities developed their own unique customs and folklore. They were tight-knit and conservative and their names, food and mode of life were different from the surrounding population. Even between different fishing villages there was often rivalry and it was rare for them to marry outwith their own community. Because of the dangerous nature of their work, they were unusually superstitious. Thus there were words conside... Read More

  • Glasgow's Travelling Showpeople Community

    " Travelling Showpeople opened Glasgow's first cinemas, operated the rides and stalls at the annual Kelvin Hall Winter Fair and Glasgow Green. As the winter base for over 80% of Scottish show families, Glasgow has the largest concentration of Showpeople in Europe. Yet the unique traditions and histories of this tight-knit community are still unknown to most of the Scottish public." The quote above was taken from a publication that was produced as part of the Fair Glasgow project. This project was initia... Read More

  • Glen Cinema Memorial

    GLEN CINEMA PRIOR DEMOLITION c 1930 The cinema (opened in 1901), known as 'The Glen' and 'The Royal Animated Pictures' once formed part of the Good Templar Halls (now occupied by Burton's shop). On the afternoon of 31 December 1929, during a children's matinee, a freshly shown film put in its metal box in the spool room began to issue thick black smoke. Soon the smoke filled the auditorium containing about one thousand children. Panic set in. Children ran downstairs so fast and in such numbers, that t... Read More

  • Greenock Burns Club

    The Greenock Burns Club or as it is affectionately known ‘The Mother Club’ was the first organisation to be devoted to the memory of the poet and the promotion of his works. The club had its origins in the members of Greenock Ayrshire Society who held a preliminary meeting in the summer of 1801 and the club was formally founded next year at a Burns’ Anniversary dinner on 29th January 1802. The objects of the Club are to cherish the name of Robert Burns, to foster a love of his writings and generally... Read More

  • Greenock Philosophical Society

    The Greenock Philosophical Society has held an annual series of lectures on cultural and scientific subjects since it was instituted in 1861. Since 1876 these lectures have been held each autumn and winter in the Watt Hall of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Since its inception many famous cultural and scientific figures have lectured before the Society such as Lord Kelvin, Professor Joule and Oscar Wilde. The lectures are open to members of the Society and to members of the public for a small f... Read More

  • Guising

    Guising is the term given to the Scottish/Irish Halloween tradition of children going from house to house in the neighborhood in disguise (hence the term) and collecting food treats from the neighbors. The Scottish tradition of 'guising' can be traced back to Samhuinn where people would use masks and decorations to disguise themselves and scare away evil spirits. Also see Hallow'een traditions ... Read More

  • Hallow'een

    allowe'en (Halloween ), celebrated on October 31 derives from the Celtic festival Samhuinn. Children go around peoples' houses (traditionally in costumes or fancy dress), asking for sweets or money although some still (voluntarily or otherwise) perform a song, dance or tell a joke in order to deserve the householder's contribution. Money used to be saved towards buying fireworks for another celebration on 5th November, Guy Fawkes Night. American influence and marketing in recent years has seen this incre... Read More

  • Hansel

    A silver coin (nowadays probably a One or Two Pound coin) is placed by well-wishers into the pram or under the pillow of a new baby when they meet him or her for the first time. This is to bring luck (and fortune?) to the baby and perhaps to the giver.... Read More

  • Heart of Midlothian

    The Heart of Midlothian is a stone mosaic built into the cobbled street outside of St Giles near George IV Bridge marks the spot where the old Tolbooth, or town prison used to stand. Some local people continue the tradition of spitting on the Heart when walking past for good luck. See video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32H9WORvpj0 ... Read More

  • Hen Nights

    Females about to be married are sometimes dressed up by their female work colleagues in a Bridal veil, balloons, flowers, streamers and "L" plates, and traditionally made to carry a chamber pot full of salt (sometimes with little dolls and other tokens stuck in) paraded through the streets to invite kisses from male passers-by (traditionally for a donation of money into the ‘potty’). This is still done, but has more commonly turned into a night-out for the prospective bride, her female friends and relat... Read More

  • Hogmanay

    Hogmanay is the Scots name for New Year's eve. The tradition of seeing out the old year and welcoming in the new has, in cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, been adopted and transformed in recent decades to the point that 'Hogmanay' is now often associated with these huge public type of 'events' with firework displays. However many older non-commercial public events take place around Scotland e.g. the Stonehaven Fireball Festival or Comrie Flambeaux. Prior to the recent 'Edinburgh's Hogmany' festiva... Read More

  • Marymass Irvine

    Marymass is a festival in Irvine, dating back to the Middle Ages, the modern version of which dates from the 1920s. It was originally associated with the Virgin Mary (rather than Mary Queen of Scots, as is often supposed). The modern version, organised by the local council and Irvine Carters Society, features many activities around the town, and established a Marymass Queen with her 'four Marys' (who are the queen's ladies in waiting- this part does seem to consciously refer back to the time of Mary Queen ... Read More

  • Masons' Walk at Rosehearty

    Natives of Rosehearty are drawn back to the town for this annual march, doubling its population for the day. 100 to 150 Masons take part, mostly from the local Masonic 'Lodge' but with representatives from other Lodges. The 'Walk' starts from the Lodge and progresses along the route through the town's streets arranged in order of: the March 'Marshall' and Director of Ceremonies followed by the bible bearer with sword bearers, the Pipe Band,junior and senior Deacons, ordinary Lodge members then Lodge Office-... Read More

  • May Day Face Washing, Arthur's Seat

    Some people still get up early enough on May Day (1st of May) to climb Arthur's Seat - the extinct volcano at the centre of Hoyrood Park, Edinburgh - to wash their faces in the morning dew as the sun rises. It was believed that this would bring females eternal beauty.... Read More

  • Mehndi (Hindi: मेहँदी, Urdu: مہندی)

    ‘Mehndi (Hindi: मेहँदी, Urdu: مہندی) is the application of henna as a temporary form of skin decoration in India and Pakistan’[see source below]and by women from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities living in Scotland. Traditionally used for brides, it is still applied for weddings and also for other special occasions (mainly on the palms of the hands but also to the feet). It is a temporary decoration which sits on the surface of the skin, not a tattoo. After application by... Read More

  • MILLER'S SHOWPEOPLE HISTORY

    Miller's Family had started doing their Fairgrounds since 19th Century, the man named Christopher Miller were originally came from Horley near Gatwick at Surrey, he began to travel with the Circus around the Country including Belfast, Northern Ireland, on arrival he had a good company of artistics and staff and over 30 Horses and over £300 in hard cash. One night some very valuable horses were poisoned and this threw Christopher into grave financial difficulties and other horses died from want of prope... Read More

  • Musselburgh Festival

    In 1935 a group of local people decided to start an 'Honest Toun' (Musselburgh) Association and annual festival which would reflect but not detract from Musselburgh's traditional Riding of the Marches. Each year an Honest Lad and Lass are elected from several nominees representing local wards and these carry out the traditional duties of the Honest Lad and Lass, leading or being the key figures in the events which make up the festival. Musselburgh's annual festival comprises several events including: ... Read More

  • New Year - coastal/sea

    In coastal areas, both boats in harbour and tankers offshore sound their horns at midnight to mark the start of the New Year on 31st December. This is also marked by the ringing of church bells (such as those of the Tron Kirk in Edinburgh's High Street or Royal Mile) onland. ... Read More

  • New Year Calendar Tradition

    In my home at New Year I never turn a calendar to show January until after midnight. I was taught from my Glasgow grandparents that it was bad luck to show the face of the calendar before the new year. Our tradition was to take down the old calendar on New Year's Eve and replace it with a new calendar, but to show the back blank page. When it was past midnight as a child I was allowed to turn all the calendars in the house around. I still carry this practise on today. In addition my family always thought it... Read More

  • Orkney Yole

    The Orkney Yole is a small boat, possibly of Nordic ancestry built, primarily, for cargo-carrying duties. According to the Orkney Yole Association website, the yole may vary in length from about 13' to 22', but is more generally about 18' long by 7' or 8' of beam and draws about 2'. Variations occur according to the builder but there are two main categories - the North Isles Yole and the South Isles Yole. While the yole was once a central part of the economic life of Orkney, this has- perhaps inevitably- be... Read More

  • Paisley Burns Club

    Paisley Burns Club was founded on January 29, 1805, and claims to be the oldest formally constituted Burns Club in the world. Formed by a group of enthusiastic Paisley men, mainly weavers and including Robert Tannahill, the Paisley poet, its primary purpose was to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns and cherish his memory in other ways. The club’s membership, traditionally all male, following Burns’ Bachelor Club format, has included many influential and notable local men as members and honorary m... Read More

  • Paisley Hammermen Society

    In 1658, Paisley Town Council first granted a charter making it possible for the trades people of Paisley to form societies. The purpose of these societies was to protect their trade and exclude strangers from carrying on the trade within the town’s boundaries. The Paisley Hammermen Society was established in 1761. Its membership was open to various tradesmen employed in a wide range of trades including ironmongers, saddlers, engravers, shoemakers and watchmakers. Membership also appears to have extend... Read More

  • Paisley Natural History Society

    The Paisley Naturalists' Society was formed on 22nd March 1892. One of the first tasks of the society was to make an application to the Paisley Museum Committee for a use of a room in the museum in which to hold their meetings - a meeting place that the present Paisley Museum Natural History Society still uses today. The first paper was read at the meeting of ther 26th April 1892 'Economic Uses of Entomology, as applied to Agriculture, Horticulture, etc' by Mr John Dunsmore, local entomologist. During... Read More

  • Paisley Philosophical Institution

    Founded on the 13th October, 1808, Paisley Philosophical Institution has included many educated and professional people of the Paisley area, including doctors, ministers, lawyers and businessmen. Their aim was to continue to educate themselves, and other people of the town, by lectures, the collection of scientific books and by forming a museum collection. Their first lectures covered scientific subjects such as botany, anatomy and physiology and electricity. Over time the range of lecture subjects became m... Read More

  • Poor-oot

    The ‘poor-oot’ (pour out) or ‘scramble’ is a tradition related to weddings. As newlyweds drive off from the church after their wedding ceremony the groom (or new husband) throws handfuls of coins out of the car window. Children then ‘scramble’ in the street to grab the scattered money. Presumably this originally symbolised the new husband sharing his ‘good fortune’ and demonstrating his happiness. The practice has different names in different parts of the country. The term ‘Poor-oot’ is ... Read More

  • Pop Day

    At Hallow'een the children of the town of Stromness in Orkney carve turnips into amusing or grotesque heads and paint them in bright colours. They are solid, unlike the more common ‘neepie lanterns’. The children then go around the houses saying ‘A penny tae burn me Pop’ and receive small amounts of money. The origin of this goes back to the Reformation when it was the Pope who was being burnt in effigy, but it has changed over the years to become the innocent sounding ‘Pop’ with no sectarian... Read More

  • Rowan Trees

    The tradition of planting a Rowan tree in a garden is still followed by some. The Rowan was believed to afford the house and its inhabitants protection from witches. Consequently, it is considered very bad luck to cut down a Rowan tree! The manifold uses of the rowan tree included it being grown for suitable timber for tool handles. It was known for its strength and density, which is advantageous when it comes to making handles for spades, cas-chrom, spinning wheels and walking sticks. Hugh Cheape descri... Read More

  • Scottish High Tea

    Normally served between 3-7pm, which is available in some hotels in Scotland. The meal offered varies from location to location. Usually it consists of toast/bread/rolls served with each course, soup or similar starter, main meal (fish or steak pie is common), a choice of puddings and then a huge plate of biscuits, cakes and fancies served on a cake stand. Tea is served throughout the meal. ... Read More

  • Scottish Wedding

    The Scottish Wedding Reception Most Scottish weddings take place in mid to late afternoon and are then followed by a formal reception or party with a wedding meal. At the wedding meal toasts are made to the bride (by the Groom) and to the bridesmaids (by the 'Best Man' - the Groom's best friend and assistant). Speeches are usually made by the Bride's father and, occasionally nowadays, by the bride. Later in the evening the wedding dance begins, led by the bride and groom who are then joined in the 'first... Read More

  • Scramble

    The‘scramble’ or ‘poor-oot’ (pour out) is a tradition related to weddings. As newlyweds drive off from the church after their wedding ceremony the groom (or husband) throws handfuls of coins out of the car window. Children then ‘scramble’ in the street to grab the scattered money. Presumably this originally symbolised the new husband sharing his ‘good fortune’ and demonstrating his happiness? There may be similar traditions or different names for this custom in different parts of the country... Read More

  • Sprawl

    'The Sprawl' is a wedding ritual where a Bride's father tosses coins for the bairns to pick up off the street or pavement as the car leaves the bride's home for the Kirk where she is about to be married. ... Read More

  • St Andrews University - Pier Walk

    On Sundays during term time when the Chapel Service ends at around 12 noon, students wearing their gowns - mainly but not exclusively red flannel undergraduate gowns with velvet yokes - process along North Street to the pier (near the harbour) led by the members of the University Chapel Choir. They walk along the lower part of the pier to the end and, if they are brave, return along the high part. ... Read More

  • Stag Nights

    These have generally deteriorated into simply a night-out to mark the husband-to-be's 'last night of freedom' as a single man. Those taking part are the prospective groom, his male friends and male relations. It can still often involve dressing up (often of everyone concerned - see understated T-shirt approach in photograph above) when traditionally only the groom was humiliated on the night through Blackening. Stag nights can now stretch to entire weekends away or short trips abroad.... Read More

  • Temperance Flute Walk

    'The Walk' - 3 days of temperance walks - is held every year at the Buchan Rathen coastal villages of St Combs, Inverallochy and Cairnbulg in the North East of Scotland. Local walkers, led by flute players and people playing drums and triangles, have been carrying out this tradition for 160 years. The first couple to walk behind the flute band is the oldest man of the village with a female partner, followed by other walkers. Once one village has been ‘walked’ walked round the walkers get on buses and wa... Read More

  • The Meadows Mummers; tradition with a difference.

    Among the practitioners in this field are The Meadows Mummers. This Edinburgh-based all-female group have taken the traditional folk drama “Galoshins” (in all its various spellings) and updated it with a modernised and expanded script, written in rhyming couplets, while still respecting its traditional form and Commedia dell'Arte roots. It was associated with Hogmanay, but the Mummers largely perform at community festivals in the summer, so performances are open-air. Through collaborations with the... Read More

  • The West End Callans Association

    The West End Callans Association was founded in the late 1860s as a charitable association whose purpose was “....to make life a little easier for the deserving poor, particularly the old and helpless”. Assistance could be in the form of gifts of coal, goods, sums of money, or any other form determined by the Committee of Management. Only those who had been born in the West End of Paisley or who had lived there for more than twenty years qualified for assistance. The geographical area covered by the ... Read More

  • Tradfest

    Each year Edinburgh is home to Tradfest TradFest celebrates Scotland’s May festivals – Beltane and Mayday – which traditionally mark the beginning of summer, bringing energy and colour to the capital city as the greening of the year breaks out. Venues include Calton Hill, the Royal Mile, The Pleasance, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Filmhouse, Queens Hall, Summerhall, George Square Theatre and Dance Base. The TradFest Trail highlights craft shops, galleries, pub sessions, instrument makers, book... Read More

  • Wedding Cogs

    Wooden wedding cogs are vessels from which ale is consumed at Orcadian weddings. These cogs have long been a prominent feature of island weddings, and remain a prominent feature today. The exact mixture which now goes into the cog varies with every wedding, as each family tends to have its own views on the correct recipe. Despite the family variations, the base ingredients of this potent alcoholic mixture are usually hot ale, gin, brandy and whisky mixed with sugar and pepper. Traditionally, there were best... Read More

  • Wedding Shower

    Wedding Shower or 'Showing of Presents: one night during the week/s immediately before a wedding the bride and her mother host a party for female friends and relations invited to the wedding. Guests bring wedding presents/gifts to the mother’s house where they are opened by the bride and put on show by mother and daughter along with cards saying whom each gift is from. ... Read More

  • Wedding-Horseshoes

    It is traditional for the newly married bride and groom to be presented with a horseshoe, directly after they have exited the wedding venue, as a symbol of good luck. In some families the tradition is for the horseshoe to be presented by the youngest wedding guest. The horseshoe given now is usually a symbolic horseshoe made from plastic, cardboard or similar light weight material, rather than an iron horseshoe made by a blacksmith. ... Read More

Can't Find What You Are Looking For?

The content on this site is provided and maintained by people just like you. We need your contributions for this site to represent the wide range of ICH activity taking place in Scotland. If you would like to add an entry to the site, please sign up and become a contributor.

Contribute to ICH Scotland

Connect With Us