Did You Know?
- Marriage Customs in Scotland
Courtship and marriage are important for all societies and all sorts of customs and rituals have arisen which are associated with these events. Here are some of the customs which used to be prevalent in Scotland and some which have survived to this day. Of course, a number of these practices were taken to other parts of the world as a result of emigration.
Although most people married locally, young people learned from an early age how to foretell who their marriage partner would be or what he/she would be like. For example, by paring an apple so that the skin comes off in one length. As the clock strikes twelve, it was swung round the head and thrown over the left shoulder. When it landed it would form the first letter of the name of the future spouse. Also, two nuts were burnt in a fire - if they burnt quietly all would be well, if they exploded and burst, true love would be hard to find.
On 14 February an equal number of male and female names were written on bits of paper and placed in separate hats. Each person drew out a name from the appropriate hat. Whoever became paired, were sweethearts for the following year. The modern custom of sending Valentine cards stems from this. Modern envelopes have "Postman, postman, do not tarry, take this to the girl I'll marry" and "SWALK" (sealed with a loving kiss) and/or HOLLAND (how our love lasts and never dies) written on them.
Walking out was a popular activity for the young men and women in towns. They would gradually pair off and when they became betrothed, they stood on opposite sides of a burn, dipped their hands in the water and joined hands.
The custom of bundling was found in many parts of the country but was particularly prevalent in Orkney (perhaps because of the long, dark, cold winter nights). The courting couple were encouraged to share a bed - but they were fully clothed and the girl had a bolster cover tied over her legs! The idea was to allow the couple to talk and get to know each other but in the safe (and warm) confines of the girl's house.
Initials were often carved on tree trunks or on stones. Some of these bridal stones still exist.
These were popular meeting places in towns and cities in the 20th century. It was customary for the men to stand on one side of the hall and girls on the other. When the announcement "Please take your partners for..." was made, there was a mad rush by the boys across the dance floor (I remember it well!). The legendary question was "Are ye dancing?" to which the reply was "Are ye askin?" As the evening progressed, there might be a mutual agreement for the young man to "lumber" a girl home.
Bottom Drawer and Dowries
A bride was expected to have a collection of bed-linen, blankets, table linen and bedroom furnishings to take to her new home. The father was also expected to provide a dowry - perhaps a few cattle or sheep or money. Lairds often went into debt to provide their daughters with a good dowry (especially if it was the dowry which made the girl attractive!)
It is said that in the 11th century Queen Margaret introduced the custom of allowing girls to ask the boy to marry her on 29 February in a leap year. It evolved later that if the boy refused, he had to buy her a dress and kid gloves instead!
Until 1929, a girl could legally get married at the age of 12 or above and a boy at 14 though marriage at such a young age was extremely rare. In 1929 the age was raised to 16. However, in Scotland no parental consent is required from that age, whereas in England the consent of parents was (and is) required until the age of 18. This resulted in young English couples coming to Scotland if they were unable to get their parents' permission. Since the first town of any size over the Scottish/English border was Gretna Green, this became a frequent place for the marriage to take place. The perpetuation of the tradition of the local blacksmith there carrying out a form of wedding ceremonies added to the romance. There are now over 4,000 weddings a year at Gretna in Scotland's "wedding capital" which has now become a popular tourist attraction even for those not getting married.
Announcing the intended wedding in the church was known as "crying the banns" or "crying siller". For some time now, in an increasingly secular society, notices of marriage can also be displayed at the office of the Registrar. This has to be done at least 15 days in advance of the wedding and not more than three months ahead. Such a notice was displayed outside Dornoch Cathedral (pictured here by courtesy of Dornoch> Web site) 15 days before the marriage of Madonna and Guy Ritchie in December 2000. Details of the regulations can be found at the General Register Office> Web site.
Show of Presents
Friends and relatives provided presents to help the intending couple to set up home. There was a "show of presents" when everyone came to see what they had received. This was a particularly West of Scotland/Glasgow custom though in Moray it was also found and there it was called "bucking".
Stag Night and Hen Nights
I'm sure you know all about those! In addition, female office and factory workers leaving to get married were often dressed up with balloons, "L" plates, carried a chamber pot (often with salt inside) and were covered in paper flowers and sometimes carried in a barrow to be paraded through the streets. Passing men were encouraged to kiss the prospective bride in exchange for money dropped into the chamber pot. While still in evidence, this ritual is dying out.
Until recently, it was possible to become married by "habitation and repute" just by living together as husband and wife. Of course, these days, even if it is no longer called "co-habitation" many couples set up home together and have a family without a formal wedding ceremony. The number of marriages in Scotland is 25% less than it was 25 years ago and the percentage of children born out of wedlock is amongst the highest in Europe.
"Free" weddings were where the father of the bride paid for all the food and drink. Scots weddings usually continue into the evening with dancing and more alcohol! Penny weddings meant each guest provided some food and drink and these often lasted for more than one day.
The colour white for a wedding dress was introduced by Queen Victoria - prior to that any colour was ok except green (which was associated with the fairies) and black (which was for mourning). The tradition of the bride wearing "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" is still often followed. Traditionally, there were never any knots in ribbons or clothing but these were retied after the wedding - tying the knot.
Location of Weddings
Weddings can take place anywhere in the country if an authorised minister of religion is officiating. So weddings on mountain tops or on a ship in territorial waters are possible. But civil weddings can currently only take place in the Registrar's office - though there are moves in the pipeline to change this.
This started as the bride throwing a decorated ball as she left the church. This evolved into the bridegroom throwing coins as he left home and on leaving church. Young boys scrambled to pick them up. The custom is less prevalent now due to the danger of accidents happening as youngsters jostled for the coins.
The ring on the third finger of the left hand goes back to Roman times but was banned in Scotland after the Reformation in the 16th century as being a Popish relic. But the custom came back again in the 17th century. The wearing of wedding rings by men is a recent innovation.
This was once a "bridescake" (a sort of shortbread) baked by the brides mother. A piece was broken over the bride's head - if it broke into small pieces, the marriage would be fruitful. The custom of both bride and groom cutting the cake is recent - it used to be just the bride. Everyone got a piece of cake and also sending a piece of cake to all who had given a present became the norm. When the more modern, fruit-cake covered in icing style of cake came into fashion, it was customary to have small trinkets inside so guests had to watch carefully as they ate!
In earlier times there was rarely money for such things as honeymoons and the young couple would go to their new home after the wedding and reception. The groom carrying the bride over the threshold was to avoid the bad luck of her tripping on the way in.
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