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Scottish Customs, Culture & Holidays


If you want to party hearty, celebrate a low-key Christmas at home, then get your plane tickets to arrive in Edinburgh around the 28th of December and plan to stay at least through January 3 (you'll need that long to recover!).

In Scotland, all the Scots' love of dancing, music, mischievous merry-making and, of course, whisky drinking, come together in the biggest party of the year - Hogmanay (New Year's Eve to the rest of us).

Consider the tremendous influence of Scottish traditions on in American New Year's Eve celebrations - what song is most sung? Auld Lang Syne, naturally. What list is made on January 1? Our New Year's resolutions, a tradition invented by the Scots (yes, really). Why are guests told to BYOB? Because the Scots have a custom called "first footing" which consists of a dark haired handsome young man (we wish) being the first to cross our threshold as soon as the "bells ring" at midnight, bearing gifts of bread or meat (so that you'll never go hungry), coal (warmth for the new year), and, what else? Whisky - drink for the new year and by far the most important and consistently unforgotten contribution.


History of Hogmanay in Scotland

    How did it come about that the Scots celebrate New Year's so much more heartily than Christmas? During the middle ages, Scotland celebrated a merry Christmas just as cheerfully, piously and faithfully as the other Celtic countries - a wonderful combination of celebrating the "Christ's Mass" in the Catholic tradition combined with Celtic customs and traditions that are familiar to us through celebrations in England and Ireland.

    For instance, the Scots decorated their homes with mistletoe and juniper, created and performed comic skits (mumming), prepared and ate special foods, and carefully selected and prepared a Yule log (a tradition the Scots still maintain and Christmas itself is still often called "Yule" in Scotland).

    Unfortunately, in the late 1500s, the Scottish Reformation took a strong stand against pagan (eg, Catholic) celebrations and abolished Christmas. They abolished it for four hundred years. Christmas was not a day off work for most Scots until almost 1960. This is not to say the Scots didn't celebrate Christmas; it was just a private, family holiday without much ado.

    But this went very much against Scots nature. The Scots like to party. They like to have fun. So in the early 1600s, they changed the date of New Year's from March 25 to January 1 and began celebrating Hogmanay.

    As the original midwinter celebrations were based on the fire rituals of pagan times (the Yule log is an example), and as many Scots remained Catholic, especially in the Highlands, the resourceful Scots simply transferred the bulk of their Christmas celebrations to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

    Throughout Scotland today, Hogmanay is a two-day holiday (no work on January 1 or 2) filled with all kinds of festivals, parties, bonfires and, now, fireworks. Edinburgh's Hogmanay Festival lasts for days and includes one of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the world. In many parts of Scotland, a midnight mass is still celebrated on New Year's Eve.

And just like many other places in the world, Scots sing Auld Lang Syne and often wake up with a major hangover the next morning.

    Sing Auld Lang Syne around the piano at your Hogmanay celebration:

Best Hogmanay Celebrations in Scotland:

  *  Edinburgh Street Party and Fireworks


  *  Stonehaven Fire Ball Parade


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Robert Burns Day

History of Hallowe

The history of Halloween in Scotland begins with the ancient Celtic religious celebration of Samhain (summer's end). One of the two greatest annual Druidic festivals (Beltane is the other), Samhain marked the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark half.

    Samhain is the Celtic new year celebration. Beginning on the evening of October 31 (the Celts counted their days from sunset to sunset, just as the bible does), the festival would last three days (perhaps longer).

    As with other holidays of the Celtic year, October 31 marked a mystical time when the usual barriers between our world and the Otherworld thinned and stretched allowing contact between human beings and the fairy folk and/or the spirits of the dead.

Many of the celebratory elements, such as playing pranks, originated in the notion that at this time the world was turned inside out prompting people to act with abandon against the usual social strictures.

    Fire is a central element in all the Celtic celebrations. All hearthfires were put out and new fires lit from the great bonfires. In Scotland, men lit torches in the bonfires and circled their homes and lands with them to obtain protection for the coming year.

    Later, Christian elements came into play, as All Hallows' Day (all Saints' Day) and All Souls' Day contributed their own unique traditions to the core, such as trick or treating (collecting "soul cakes" on All Souls' Day) and dressing up in frightening costumes as protection against evil spirits.

    At no time, either in the Celtic religion nor in the Christian, was Halloween history connected with the devil or devil worship. Modern satanists have appropriated a holiday that is not their own.

    Once Halloween (name corrupted from All Hallows' Eve) came to America from Ireland and Scotland, other cultures have added their own elements to the modern American celebration - vampire lore, werewolves, etc.

    Also, the tradition of 'trick or treating' is a distinctly American tradition, and not practiced in Scotland.


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St. Andrews Day

    In January 2007, the St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act was given royal assent, making 30 November (or the nearest Monday if a weekend) a bank holiday in Scotland. However, instead of being a full public holiday, it is a voluntary public holiday.

    On 30 November, Scottish people celebrate St Andrew's Day, in memory of Scotland's patron saint.

    St. Andrew was one of the Twelve Apostles (disciples of Jesus) and brother of Simon Peter (Saint Peter). He was a fisherman by trade, who lived in Galilee (in present-day Israel.) The Scottish Flag

The Scottish flag is the cross of St. Andrew, also known as the Saltire. It is said to be one of the oldest national flags of any country, dating back at least to the 12th century.

    Why is St Andrew's symbol a white cross on a blue background? St. Andrew is believed to have died on a diagonally transverse cross that the Romans sometimes used for executions and which, therefore, came to be called St. Andrew's cross.  The blue stands for the sky.

In Scotland, the traditional way to celebrate St. Andrew's Day is with plenty of bagpipe music, dancing, scotch and their favorite food.

    Traditional dishes such as cock-a-leekie soup which is made with chicken and tatties-n-neeps or clapshot.  This delicious potato and turnip recipe will be served and relished for the day. Tipsy Laird is a favored cake dessert which contains a wee bit of brandy and sherry.

    In St. Andrew (the city) there is a whole week of church services, festivities, concerts, fireworks, suppers and yes, whiskey drinking. They focus on celebrating Scotland and it's culture as well as St. Andrew. This week long event is relatively new but it is something that will continue to go on in years ahead.


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