Christmastime Traditions of Old Scotland

Nativity by Scott 1872

Christmastime Traditions of Old Scotland

Nativity by Scott 1872

Nativity by William Bell Scott, 1872


The canvas above was painted in 1872 by the Scottish artist, William Bell Scott. He gives the story a local Aryshire setting. The barn is an old one near Penkill where Scott was then living. Notice the shepherd playing bagpipes. I took a photo of the painting in the National Galleries of Scotland and lightened it to better see the detail. Click on the photo to enlarge.


Yuletide Traditions of Scotland

Elements of Yuletide traditions in Scotland are the same in other Celtic countries, but Scotland has those particular to the country. Many of the Scottish traditions are rooted in the customs of ancient Celtic culture and the Roman Catholic Church practices. During the reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, Presbyterian Scots did not allow holidays at Christmas. Christmas Day was another work day as you can see in the Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit worked through Christmas Eve.

For Yuletide decorations, Scotland tended to hang evergreens, the holly particularly. A pretty modern Scottish Tree may be decorated with bows made from many different tartans. A strip of cloth is all that’s needed, from 1″ to 8″ widths and around 18″ to 4′ long. Select plain enameled baubles in different sizes to compliment to colors of the tartans, from black (yes they do work!) to rich greens, reds, deep gold, and blues. For the tree top, put a teddy bear with a tartan beret! But you could use a large tartan bow, or a simple star.

Next the music. The most traditional one is Hogmanay Party by Jimmy MacLeod and his band. Rousing and foot-tapping, you can sing , dance or just turn this one down for background music. A must for a Scottish Christmas party!

A good all-rounder with carols like Taladh Chriosta, Scottish songs and music such as New Year’s Day and Bottom of the Punch Bowl, well blended with some of the more popular carols such as God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen. Many of which you can hear a sample of at the music site.

Your reading may include, Silver Bough vol.3. Calendar of Scottish National Festivals – Halloween to Yule. This one has all the customs for you to follow, many of which are very old. A must for anyone who is of Scottish ancestry and wishes to live the seasons as their forefathers did!

Also, if you can find it, The Scottish Yule an American publication by Francis Thompson, who has written many other Scottish books.

You must have a Scottish Shortbread on your table. You can make it, or buy the real McCoy. Black Bun, and a Venison Stew would set the right feel at the table.



This cake in a crust is the traditional New Year cake in Scotland. Every housewife has her own variations. This one is from a family recipe book.

Preparation First make a 1lb weight of short crust pastry your usual method. Leave to chill.

Take a springform (if possible) cake tin, and line with baking parchment. Set aside.

Mix together

1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger, 1/4 fresh grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper.

Weigh into large bowl 10oz plain flour and 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda, mix well. Add 4oz sugar, then the spices, and weigh in 1lb currants, 1lb raisins, 4oz broken or flaked almonds, 4oz mixed candied peel.

Mix altogether well.

Add two beaten eggs, 5 tablespoons buttermilk (or milk will do) & two or three tablespoons whisky. Mix to a stiff sticky dough.

Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and line the cake tin with this. Press the fruit mixture into the pastry shell so that it is filled densely. Roll out the rest of the pastry to form a lid, and put on top in the usual way, moistening the edges with water to make then stick.

Take a long skewer, and pierce several times, right through the cake till you feel the tip touch the tin bottom. Brush the lid with a mixture of egg and milk, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 325 Fahrenheit; 170 Centigrade for about three hours. Test with skewer, when it is done, the skewer will not have any cake mix sticking to it.



Read about a Christmas wedding in A Highland Pearl.


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All heads turned toward the door when a hard knock rang out. Nellie rushed to answer the knock, and held the door open for Andrew to enter, then curtsied. Flora and Anne followed Nellie’s lead, curtsying to the laird.

“Leave us.” Andrew motioned with his hand toward the door.

The three women looked at Maidie. She nodded and they hurriedly left the chamber. She smiled at Andrew when he stood before her. He looked dashing in a great plaide of Munro colors—muted red with stripes of dark blue and gold—and a wide leather belt girded around his hips holding the plaide in place. The long end of the plaide passed under his right arm then over a cutaway blue wool jacket that reached his waist with a matching waistcoat, and bound together on the left shoulder with the large crystal brooch. A sporran made of black leather with a gold buckle hung from the belt. White wool stockings held up by black garters reached his knees with black brogans covering his feet. His ebony hair, tied in a queue at the back of his neck, sparkled with drops of water from a recent bath and washing. He looked every bit the chief of Clan Munro.

“’Tis bad luck to see your bride before the wedding,” Maidie managed to say while watching him walk closer.

“I don’t believe in luck.” Andrew’s eyes searched hers and then moved down the length of her body and up to her face again. They seemed to take in every detail. “You’re beautiful, Maidie. The most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time.” He held her arms and put his nose close to her neck. “Aye, you smell of roses. The odor I crave now.” He raised his eyes to pierce hers. “I have no’ said this to any mon or lass in a long while, but I apologize for my rude behavior of last eve.”

She smiled with love for him filling her heart to brimming over. “You’re forgiven, M’Laird. And you’re verra dashing this day.”

With a broad smile, he stepped back, took a small green silk bag from the sporran, and placed it in Maidie’s hand. She considered the small heavy bag.

“Open your gift.” He kissed the tip of her nose as she opened the bag and pulled out a shining gold necklace. Holding the beautiful ornament up to the light, she observed it carefully. “What say you of your wedding gift?” Andrew’s handsome face glowed as the corners of his mouth lifted.

He took the necklace from her hand before she could answer, walked around, moved the train of her dress, then fastened the heavy gold chain around her neck. On the chain lay a large teardrop-shaped pearl. Maidie felt the pearl. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Andrew planted a kiss on the back of her neck, sending chills down her spine, then walked back to face her.

“’Tis beautiful, M’Laird. Where did you find it?” she asked while watching him and fingering the smooth pearl.

“Someday, I’ll tell you, a ghràidh, but not now. ‘Tis Christmastime and our wedding day. We have guests waiting, only a few, but those who count the most—our friends and family. My heart overflows with love for you, and I am in a hurry to make you mine.”

He moved closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. Her lips longed for his kiss, but instead of a kiss, he spoke. She felt his hot breath fan across her face and inhaled the freshness of his scent. “I’ve searched all my life for you, Maidie.” He looked into her eyes with shards or light flashing through his. “I have indeed found the pearl. MaighstirTam read the story to me from the abbey’s Bible. He said Jesus considers each of His own a pearl of high value, but I consider you, Maidie Munro, the pearl of great price.”

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*Taken from the Christmas Archives of Countess Maria Hubert von Staufer



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