Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Scots: Xmas, Nativity and Christmas cards




The Scots never miss the chance to party, or so you might think, but they were last Europeans to resist the temptations of the festive season. There was no reference to Christmas in the New Testament and so the Scots did not regarded it as a Christian festivity. Traditionally the Scots (or Celts) celebrated New Year and viewed the idea of Christmas as an attempt by the English as pure commercialism and a poor attempt to emulate Hogmanay.



Critics of the Victorian Christmas suggested it was a time for “do gooders” to exercise charity to the less privileged. Charles Dickens author of “Christmas Carol“ was a firm believer charity should be extended throughout the year and not restricted to one day. Ironically the success of Scrooge, encouraged Christians to combine capitalism with the doctrine and practice of Christianity. Christmas Day and Boxing Day were concertinaed into the feast days for family fun and celebrations. These were celebrated at home and abroad.



Christmas was celebrated by expatriates wishing to link with their friends and families back in the motherland. Many Scottish exiles ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives recognised Christmas Day in Scotland. Back in the Highlands at the beginning of the 20th century Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ.



Twelfth night had more significance to the Scots ironically because of its pre-Christian association with the end of Samhain, or the Celtic Festival of the Dead. During the time from Halloween to the Twelfth Night, Celts celebrated walking with those who came before and those who were still to come. Dickens’ captures this with his Ghost of Christmas past and Ghost of Christmas yet to come.



After Prince Albert and Queen Victoria took the European winter traditional of decorating fir trees with flags of the Empire and candles it became very popular. Along with the invention of electricity came electric Christmas lights which furthered the general celebration of Christmas in England and America.



Santa Clause made his first appearance in 1860. There were many models for Santa or St Nicholas but the most popular was a humanitarian bishop in Asia Minor in the fourth century who became the symbol of gift giving in many European countries. Kids from poor families could anticipate finding in their stockings an orange, a new penny a piece of shortbread and a toffee.



Christmas dinner for the average family consisted of chicken broth followed by potatoes roasted at the garden or street bonfire. Families sang carols and clapped their hands to keep warm.



Pre-Christian Druids gathered mistletoe as a medicine from sacred oaks. These were cut down with golden sickles and considered helpful with fertility and that is why, to this day we kiss under a sprig of mistletoe at Christmas and New Year.



Nativity scenes painted mainly the 15th & 16th centuries inspired Christmas cards with written inscriptions and these became popular from the 18th century on-wards.



The term, Xmas was not a convenient abbreviation for Christmas card designers but instead relates instead to the translation of "CH" from Greek. Holy scriptures were originally written in Greek, before beig translated into Latin then English. In Greek, words beginning with "CH" and written as an "X", are pronounced with a silent "h", but when spoken in English this becomes a harsh sounding "K" e.g. K-mas or the mass of Christ.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

St Andrew: Who was he?




The feast of Andrew is observed on 30 November in both the Eastern and Western churches, and is the national day of Scotland. St Andrew’s patronage extends to fishmongers, gout, singers, sore throats, spinsters, maidens, old maids and women wishing to become mothers.



Andrew the Apostle (or Saint Andrew) was the brother of Saint Peter. Prior to becoming disciples, the brothers were Galilean fishermen working in the Black Sea. Andrew derives from the Greek word for brave and was martyred at Patras in Greece, bound, (not nailed), to an X shaped cross or saltire (crux decussata). Legend has it a Greek monk called St Rule or St Regulus was ordered in a vision to take relics of Andrew (a tooth, a kneecap, and arm and finger bones) to the ‘ends of the earth’ for safe keeping. He set off on a sea journey and eventually came ashore on the Fife coast at a settlement which would become the modern town of St Andrews.



According to legend, in 832 AD, Óengus II (Angus) led an army of Picts and Scots into battle where they were heavily outnumbered. The night before the battle Óengus prayed to St Andrew for help. In the morning a white cloud formed an X in the sky and after the battle Óengus honoured his pledge and duly appointed Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. Andrew was first recognised as an official patron saint of Scotland in 1320 at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath an appeal to the Pope by Scottish noblemen asserting Scotland’s independence from England. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background was eventually adopted as the flag of Scotland with the earliest use of the saltire as a flag traced to 1542.The original colour of the saltire cross was silver (Argent), but in heraldry white stands for silver.



There were several advantages having Saint Andrew as Scotland's Patron. Early Picts and Scots Christian converts modelled themselves on Saint Andrew which, in turn, carried favour with the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In the event of conflict between England and Scotland, the Scots could now appeal to the Pope for protection.



A local superstition was to use the cross of Saint Andrew as a hex sign on the fireplaces in northern England and Scotland to prevent witches from flying down the chimney and entering the house to do mischief. By placing the St Andrew's cross on one of the fireplace posts or lintels, witches are prevented from entering through this opening.



The Confederate flag also features a saltire commonly referred to as a St Andrew's cross, although the designer, William Porcher Miles, said he changed it from an upright cross to a saltire so that it would not be a religious symbol but merely a heraldic device.




The Lion Rampant





The Royal Standard of Scotland (Banner of the King of Scots) is the Scottish Royal Banner of Arms used historically by the King of Scots. The flag historically, and legally, belongs to the monarchy and since there has not been a Scottish Regent since the 17th Century, it now belongs to Queen Elizabeth II. The earliest recorded use of the Lion rampant was by Alexander II in 1222. Later a double border set with lilies was added to the standard during the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286). Following the Union of the Crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1603, the Royal Standard of Scotland was incorporated into the royal standards of successive Scottish then, following the Acts of Union in 1707, British monarchs.



The Royal Banner of Scotland is used officially at the Scottish royal residences of the Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh, and Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, when The Queen is not in residence. The Royal Standard of the United Kingdom used in Scotland is flown when the Sovereign is present.



According to an Act of Parliament, passed in 1672, it is an offense for any private citizen or corporate body to fly or wave this flag. In 1935, King George V gave permission for Lion Rampant flags to be waived by the public during his Silver Jubilee celebrations. Ever since the Lion Rampant is seen in public at many football matches and other events.

The Scottish Thistle



This is the oldest recorded 'National Flower' and one of the most well-known, and easily recognized symbols of Scotland. The prickly-leaved, pink or purple-flowered ‘Scotch’ thistle is a weed which may seem a strange choice for a national flower. This proud and regal plant grows to a height of five feet with vicious spines to protect it like a porcupine. It has no natural enemies.



For hundreds of years much of Scotland was part of the Kingdom of Norway. By the 13th century Norway seemed to have lost interest in their former territory. King Alexander III proposed to buy back the Western Isles and Kintyre from the Norse King Haakon IV (Haakon the Elder). He played the King of Norway for a fool, laying claim to the Western Isles and then stringing out negotiations until the Norwegian king lost patience. In 1263 King Haakon of Norway decided to conquer the Scots and sent a large fleet of longships. Storms forced the armada onto the beach at Largs in Ayrshire and the Norwegians were forced to land. Legend has it a sleeping party of Scots warriors were saved from ambush by the invaders when one of the attackers trod on a thistle with his bare feet. His cries raised the alarm and roused the Scots who duly defeated them. Many believe the thistle was adopted thereafter as the symbol of Scotland.



In Scotland there are several types of thistle and it is not clear which one was trod upon. Many believe it may have been the Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) as it is an abundant native species in Scotland.



Whilst the Cotton Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is by far the most imposing thistle with extremely sharp thorns, it is unlikely to have been a native of Scotland at that time.



The first use of the thistle as a royal symbol of Scotland was on silver coins issued by James III in 1470. It is said that the Order of the Thistle, the highest honour in Scotland, was founded in 1540 by King James V who, after being honoured with the Order of the Garter from his uncle King Henry VIII of England and with the Golden Fleece from the Emperor of France, felt a little left out. He resolved the issue by creating the royal title of Order of the Thistle for himself and twelve of his knights. He set up the arms and badges of the order over the gate of his palace at Linlithgow. The common badge worn over the left breast by the knights is a cross surmounted by a star of four silver points, and over this a green circle bordered and lettered with gold, containing the motto "Nemo me impune lacessit", "No-one harms me without punishment" but more commonly translated in Scots as "Wha daurs meddle wi me", in the centre is the thistle.



Hugh MacDiarmid ‘s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle was published in 1926, and remains one of the most famous works by a Scottish poet.



Flower of Scotland



Flower of Scotland is a Scottish song, used frequently at special occasions and sporting events. Although there is no official national anthem of Scotland, Flower of Scotland is one of a number of songs which unofficially fulfil this role. Written by Roy Williamson (1936- 1990) of the folk group, The Corries in 1967 it refers to the victory of the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) known, over King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The tune was originally composed on the Northumbrian smallpipes, which play in D and have the benefit of keys on the chanter to achieve a greater range of notes. The music is actually somewhat older, and was composed by Peter Dodds McCormick (c1834-1916) who emigrated to Australia as a young man, and composed the National Anthem of Australia, "Advance Australia Fair".



When sung at sporting events, crowds will often call back after certain lines: after the words "and stood against him", you may hear "(a)gainst who"; and after the words "and sent him homewards", you may hear "whit fur?" ("what for?").

The Flower of Scotland

O flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Stuart Henry (1942 - 1995)



Stuart Henry was born in Edinburgh and trained as an actor. By chance one of his first role as a professional actor was to play a DJ. He liked it so much he joined Radio Scotland as pirate jock.



Chronic sea sickness prevented him from broadcasting from the ship (Comet) so many of his programs were pre-recorded or broadcast from the mainland. Stuart’s show was immensely popular and he was selected to join the Radio 1 stable when private radio was made illegal.



Stuart was the master of understatement and spoke with a gentle East Coast accent which endeared him to his audience. He presented 'Midday Spin' (1967 -1974) as well as the Saturday Morning show (1966 -1967). When Stuart began to slur his words regularly on air his superiors thought he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Somewhat controversially, Stuart’s contract with BBC was not renewed and he left to join Radio Luxembourg in 1974. Soon after the DJ was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fitba Crazy: The National Game




The Edinburgh Academical Football Club is the oldest football club of any code in Scotland (rugby football) and was founded in 1857. As late as the 1860s, football was still played in Scotland with players allowed to handle the ball, whereas in England, only the goalkeeper was permitted to use their hands and then only in his own area.



Scotland's oldest soccer club was Queen's Park (formed 1867) and in the absence of official rules developed their own unique code. Initially they affiliated to the (English) Football Association then after helped form the Scottish FA in 1873. Queens Park played in the English FA Cup and reaching the final twice.



Scottish Association football was enthusiastically taken up by the working class particularly in the central belt of Scotland. By contrast English Association football had been the prerogative of public school boys.



The world’s first official international match under the new Football Association rules took place between Scotland and England in 1872. Bad weather caused the first fixture to be cancelled but a rescheduled game took place at the West of Scotland, Cricket Ground in Patrick, Glasgow. The game ended in a nothing each draw.



Hibernian FC was formed in 1875 by impoverished Irish émigrés living in Edinburgh and sporting the green and white to celebrate their Irish roots. Hearts formed two years later and played in red white and blue. The Edinburgh derby match is the oldest regularly played derby match in the world. Sectarianism was strong in the Scottish cities at that time and only decades later when sectarian affiliations faded did things change. The main exception was the intense rivalry between Rangers (1872 rowing enthusiasts) and Celtic (1887).



The Scottish Cup is the world’s oldest national cup competition and was first contested in 1873. The Scottish Football League was formed in 1890 and in the inaugural season of competition was between 10 teams: Abercorn (Paisley) , Cambuslang, Celtic, Cowlairs (Glasgow) , Dumbarton, Heart of Midlothian, Rangers, St. Mirren, Third Lanark and Vale of Leven (Dumbarton).



Scottish players soon developed and mastered a ‘passing and running’ play which became known as the “combination game”. Greater reliance was placed on fast wingers to bring the ball forward before passing to the striker. This technique was pioneered by Queen's Park FC and in order to distinguish colleagues from opponents distinctive self coloured strips were introduced. Players had to cover their knees by the rules and wore “knickerbockers” or "knickers". Socks were initially self-coloured but quickly design features such as contrasting rings ("cadet stripes") on the turnover began to appear. In early days players had to buy their own kit.



Towards the end of the 19th century illicit inducements were offered to Scottish players to join English clubs. Fergie Suter ( Partick Thistle) was the first to cross the border to join Darwen FC (Lancashire) for an undisclosed incentive in 1878. Rows over broken time payments, poaching, financial inducements or the offer of a job (with paid time off for training) became a serious issue and led in 1885 to a decision by the FA to recognise professionalism in England. Payments to players were not permitted in Scotland until 1893. One of the consequences of the introduction of professionalism in England was that the best players in Scotland moved south to play for wages.