Heritage and Culture

A Christmas Tradition

A Christmas Tradition
By Sophie

Did you know that in Scotland, Christmas was banned for nearly 400 years? This offers an explanation as to why we are so well equipped for our New Years celebrations, without having so many old Scottish Christmas traditions. Until the reformation in 1560, Christmas in Scotland was a religious feasting day, which was celebrated much in the same way as most of Europe. As the Kirk associated this religious festival as having ties with the Roman Catholic Church, Christmas was dismissed as a "Popish Fesitval" and was not to be taken part in.

In 1640 an Act of the Parliament of Scotland made the celebration of 'Yule Vacations' illegal. The same ban was imposed in England, until it was repealed in 1686, however the suppression of Christmas effectively lasted for 400 years. The pre-existing emphasis on Hogmanay coupled with the Church of Scotland's indifference towards Christmas led most Scots to accept a long-standing status quo. December 25th only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day was not recognised as a holiday until 1974.

The most interesting fact about current Scottish Christmas traditions, is that they haven't been around for very long, however there are many traditions before the ban came in to place.

Baking Yule Bread

One Scottish Christmas tradition, that was banned for many years, was the baking of Yule Bread. During the time of this ban, bakers were required to give the authorities the name of anyone who requested this holiday staple. The original tradition involved baking an unleavened loaf of bread

for each member of the family. The person who finds the trinket in his or her loaf will have good luck all year round.


Once a popular tradition, on Christmas eve a single person would crack an egg into a cup. The shape in which the egg white formed would determine the profession of the possible mate. The egg would be mixed into a cake and if the cake cracked during baking, the baker would have bad luck in the next year. Fireplace ashes would be swept and read, like a fortune-teller would read tea-leaves, was another common tradition.

Burning a Twig

Another common tradition was to burn a twig from a Rowan tree at Christmas. This was seen as a way to clear away any bad feelings of jealousy or mistrust between family members, friends, or neighbours.

First Footing

As the first visitor to a home on Christmas day, you would be named the 'first footer'. This person was required to bring gifts of peat, money, and bread to the home as a symbol of warmth, wealth, and a lack of want. As time progressed, this tradition became adopted for Hogmanay. Placing candles in the window to welcome a stranger is a long-upheld Scottish Christmas tradition. By honouring the visit of a stranger in the night, you honour the Holy family, who searched for shelter on the night of Christ's birth.

Once the ban on Christmas was lifted, Scots adopted many English and American Christmas traditions. We celebrate with festive trees and presents for all. Gigantic dinners with mounds of Scottish Shortbread, mashed turnips, and roasted turkey or venison stew. In addition to Yule Bread, families may also make a Black Bun or Twelfth Night Cake. Similar to a fruit cake, it has thick pastry and is packed with spices, fruit and nuts. Sometimes more than a dash of Whisky is also added!

Keep an eye out for our Scottish Christmas Recipes coming later this week on the Scotweb Tartans Facebook page!