Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Whisky or whiskey? : A brief history

Whisky (or whiskey) derives from the Gaelic word uisce/uisge meaning water. Distilled alcohol was known in Latin as aqua vitae ("water of life") and translated in Scottish Gaelic to: uisge beatha "lively water" or "water of life". Whisky is made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. "Scotch" is the internationally recognized term for "Scotch whisky" and "whiskey" was invented by Irish distillers to distinguish their wares from the sub-standard Scotch whisky.

Distillation of alcohol had its origins in 13th century Italy, where alcohol was distilled from wine. Its use spread through medieval monasteries largely for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of colic and smallpox. The Scots and Irish started distilling the spirit alcohol primarily from barley due to the absence of grapes for medicinal purposes. The first confirmed written record of whisky in Ireland comes from 1405, in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, which attributes the death of a chieftain to "taking a surfeit of aqua vitae" at Christmas. In Scotland, the first evidence of whisky production comes from an entry in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494 where malt is sent "…eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae’. A boll was an old Scottish measure of not more than six bushels. (One bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms). This was enough to make about 500 bottles.

Outside the monasteries the Guild of Surgeon Barbers held the monopoly on production but when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, whisky production moved into personal homes and farms as newly independent monks needed to find a way to earn money. Then whisky was not allowed to age and tasted very raw and brutal. It was taken undiluted and was very potent. Whisky was very much a poor man's drink.

In 1295 Scottish merchants started to import Bordeaux's finest wines from France and claret became the national drink of Scotland. The Auld Alliance was built on Scotland and France’s shared need to curtail English expansion. Primarily it was a military and diplomatic alliance but for most of the population it brought tangible benefits through pay as mercenaries in France’s armies and the pick of finest French wines. The Auld Alliance made sure the trade between France e and Scotland was robust and when England was at war with France and the import of claret to that country banned the Border Scots made a good living smuggling supplies into northern England. French wine was landed on Wine Quay of Leith and rolled up the streets to the merchants’ cellars behind the water front.

‘To drink withe ws the new fresche wyne
That grew apone the revar Ryne,
Fresche fragrant claretis out of France,
Off Angeo and of Orliance,’

William Dunbar extolled the selections of wine to be found in Edinburgh to King James IV (1473 – 1513).

The Auld Alliance was no longer feasible between Protestant Scotland and Catholic France after the Reformation but the trade in Claret continued. As late as the 1670s, Scots merchants were still going to Bordeaux to get their first choice of wine. Even after the Union of Parliaments with England in 1707, Scots continued to smuggle Claret into Scotland to avoid taxes. Scots of all persuasions, Jacobite or Hanoverian drank Claret in preference to patriotic Port especially when toasting the exiled Stuart kings as ‘the King over the water’. When in 1880s, the French crop of grapes was devastated by the phylloxera pest whisky became the primary liquor in many markets.

The first license to distil whisky was granted in Ireland in 1608, to the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland . The first reference to distilling in a private house in the parish of Gamrie in Banffshire came in 1614. According to the Register of the Privy Council a man was accused of house breaking combined with assault. It is recorded he knocked over some ‘aquavitie’. The Excise Act fixing the duty at 2/8d (13p) per pint (one third of a gallon) of aquavitae or other strong liquor was passed by the Scots Parliament in 1644. For the remainder of the 17th century various alterations were made to the types and amounts of duty collected. The earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament appears to be in 1690, when mention is made of the famous Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden.

In Ireland a law was passed (1661) which forced distillers to pay tax on spirits produced for private consumption. The law was difficult to enforce and a further bill was passed in 1760 to make it illegal to operate a still without a license. Illegal stills were set up in rural areas and people started making poitín (put-cheen) distilled in small copper pots from a mash of malted barley. Later corn, treacle, sugar beet, potatoes or whey was also used as a wash to ferment before distillation. The still was heated by peat fires and attended to for several days to allow the runs to go through. The quality of poitín was highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment.

After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, English revenue staff (excisemen) crossed the border to bring whisky production under control. The excise laws were so confused no two distilleries were taxed at the same rate. When the new Malt Tax was introduced in 1725 it forced whisky distillation underground. Illicit distilling flourished and the highland distillers worked under the cover of darkness to hide the smoke. Rough whisky was known as moonshine and it was estimated over half of Scotland's whisky output was illegal. Illegal trade in whisky and smuggling over the border became common.

Whisky proved popular and spread throughout the colonies and during the American Revolution; George Washington operated a large distillery at Mount Vernon. Colonial farmers found it easier and more profitable to convert corn to whisky before transporting it to market. After the American Revolutionary War an additional excise tax was levied in 1791. The new excise on America’s popular drink was to help fund war debt incurred during the American Revolutionary War. The "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government and triggered the Whiskey Rebellion. Protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Even after resistance was quelled the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect and was eventually repealed in 1801. From 1823 whisky in the US was called Bourbon.

The legalization of whisky production in Scotland came when the British government introduced the Excise Act in 1823. A new vigour for whisky making saw a wave of technical innovation including the "continuous still. " Brewers could now produce whisky much faster as well as make the drink of higher quality. By 1850 some whisky makers were experimenting with mixing traditional pot still whisky with that from the new Coffey still (continuous still). The new distillation method or blending was scoffed at by some Irish distillers, who clung to their traditional pot stills. Scott Andrew Usher is credited with successfully perfecting blended whisky. The introduction of new train routes in the 19th century opened access to the farthest corners of Scotland. Rural farms with distillation as a sideline became economically independent companies and their malt whisky could be easily transported into the cities. Blending became more common practice and the industry boomed. Important blended whisky brands such as Dewar's and Haig emerged. Single malt whisky led a shadowy existence and was only appreciated by the Scots themselves and as 'spice' for the blended whiskies, which were meanwhile sold worldwide.

Malt whiskies were the taste-defining ingredient of the blends and the new corporations became dependent on the supply of malt whiskies. Principal whisky producing areas include Speyside and the Isle of Islay. The big success of the blended whiskies made the corporations grow until 1914. World War I (1914-1918) led to a drastic decline of the whisky production. This led to serious problems for the whisky companies. High debt and distillery closures followed until the recovery came with the end of prohibition in 1933. Britain paid its war debts to the USA in whisky. During this time Distiller’s Company Ltd. took over many companies and distilleries.

Whisky exports went all over the world but the bulk was destined for the USA and when Prohibition was introduced in North America (1920 - 1933) distilleries in the US become illegal. Public pressure forced the US government to ban sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. Only a limited production of religious wines and medicinal whisky was allowed to remain. In the US the illegal booze trade was dominated by developing bootlegger gangs who smuggled illicit supplies from Canada and elsewhere. City and town speakeasies supplied an eager audience with Scotch and Irish whiskey.

Whisky was made in a pot still. For batch distillation heat is applied directly to the pot containing the wash. During distillation the vapour contains more alcohol than the liquid. When the vapours are condensed, the resulting liquid contains a higher concentration of alcohol. In the pot still, the alcohol and water vapour combine with esters and flow from the still through the condensing coil. There they condense into the first distillation liquid, the so-called "low wines". The low wines have strength of about 25–35% alcohol by volume, and flow into a second still. It is then distilled a second time to produce the colourless spirit, collected at about 70% alcohol by volume. The distinctive smoky flavour found in various types of whisky, especially Scotch, is due to the use of peat smoke to treat the malt. Colour is added through maturation in an oak aging barrel, and develops over time. A still for making whisky is usually made of copper, which removes sulfur-based compounds from the alcohol that would make it unpleasant to drink. Modern stills are made of stainless steel with copper piping and plate inlays along still walls. Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, although some are distilled a third time and others even up to twenty times. Scotch Whisky Regulations require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. Any age statement on the bottle, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest Scotch whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed age whisky. Scotch whisky without an age statement may, by law, be as young as three years old.

Like wine whisky changes its chemical makeup and taste as it matures in wood. Whiskies are matured in the cask additional aging in a barrel after a decade or two, does not necessarily improve a whisky. Cask-strength whisky can have as much as twice the alcohol percentage sold over the counter i.e. alcoholic strength of 40% abv.

The basic types of Scotch are malt and grain, which are combined to create blends. Scotch malt whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown.

A Single malt whisky is whisky from a single distillery made from a mash that uses only one particular malted grain. Unless the whisky is described as single-cask, it contains whisky from many casks, and different years, so the blender can achieve a taste recognisable as typical of the distillery.

Blended malt whisky is a mixture of single malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labeled "pure malt" or just "malt" it is almost certainly a blended malt whisky. This was formerly called a "vatted malt" whisky.

Blended whisky is made from a mixture of different types of whisky. A blend may contain whisky from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand. The brand name may, therefore, omit the name of a distillery. Most Scotch, Irish and Canadian whisky is sold as part of a blend, even when the spirits are the product of one distillery.

After the Second World War more companies merged or were taken over as the demand for spirits increased. More international interest saw bigger take-overs but unlike other drinks the importance of country of origin was steadfast for whisky. While the billion dollar corporations used their cost advantages in distribution, smaller whisky companies made their profit with valuable special bottlings. The continued popularity of malt whisky opened up new possibilities for small companies. Privately-owned distilleries survived and develop. Popularity of whisky continues to grow with each passing year, and in 2009 Scottish brewers managed to export record breaking 1.1 billion bottles of whisky to the customers around the world. The Scotch whisky industry boosted the value of its exports in 2011 to a record £4.2bn. Brazil was the fastest growing market, recording an increase over 2010 of 48%, with Singapore and Taiwan close behind on 44% each. In 2014 Scotch whisky exports fell for the first time in a decade, declining by 7% to £3.9bn.

Barnard A 2008 The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom
Holt M. P 2006 Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History

(Video Courtesy: WalrusWatch Published by Youtube Channel)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Auld Lang Syne

When bandleader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight at a New Year's Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, little did he know the effect it would have .

(Video Courtesy: ChristmasTimeTV by Youtube Channel)

The famous bandleader first heard the song in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. "Auld Lang Syne" was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns heard a version sung by an old man and transcribed it refining some of the lyrics. Other versions do exist and predate this time, but Burns version is most often sung.

Auld Lang Syne or "old long since" means "times gone by" and was in common use in Old Scots.

"For auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet."

The sentiments expressed are people of the past will be remembered with great fondness. The old Celtic belief was during Samhain, the spirits of the past and future walked the earth with the living. So it would be respectful to remember the deceased at Hogmanay. New Year is the time for old friends to get together, if not in person then in memory and "tak a right guid-willie waught" (a good-will drink).

Guy Lombardo choice of music for the occasion was perfect.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gies a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

Let;s hope the coming new year will be a good one for one and all. A Happy New Year.

(Video Courtesy: gabychest by Youtube Channel)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Origins and Practice of Hogmanany

Although the well-known Scottish tradition of Hogmanay (originally the name was given to a type of three cornered, biscuit) is celebrated on New Year's Eve, its origins are age old and grounded in Celtic culture. Despite the long association with the Scots, Hogmanay is not a Scottish custom but practiced, all over Europe.

Hogmanay was first recorded in 1604 as Hagmanay (delatit to haue been singand hagmonayis on Satirday) in the Elgin Records. It was later documented in 1692 as an entry of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence,

"It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane."

The etymology of Hogmanay remains obscure and may arise from a French, Norse or a Goidelic (Insular Celtic) root.

In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st November and was called Samhain. This was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the dead and those not yet born walked freely among the living. It was a time of plenty as the stocks were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead and a great time for kinship as the hill dwellers came to the gathering. Today this celebration is found throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world (The Festival of the Dead) and lasts from Halloween to New Year.

Samhain was a time where darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lun the Sun God was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. Good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Much of the sacred symbolism of Samhaimn can be found in the customs of Halloween and Hogmanay.

In the New Year, many cultures believed the first foot to cross the threshold brought the house good fortune for the coming year. "First footing" is an ancient custom and tradition demands the first person to pass the threshold must be a sonsy (trustworthy), a stranger of dark complexion and full head of hair, carry a lucky talisman. It was considered very unlucky to have a first fit who was a person with fair complexion. Suspicious people refuse to leave their home until they were first footed.

Bearing gifts echoes the 8th Century beliefs of the Vikings that good luck charms made the coming New Year a thriving one. Black bun (pastry covered rich current bun), and wassail (hot toddy) represent food and sustenance for the coming year. Coal symbolized good luck and prosperity.

In the Isle of Man (UK) a good first footer was a man of good appearance and dark complexion with in-steps high enough to allow a mouse to run through. The significance of the arched foot remains unclear but early Christians believed men were made in the image of God and the Christian Foot had a perfect arch. Flat feet or splayed feet were considered the sign of evil and hence unlucky omens.

Functional feet were important to the early Christians as walking was the only means to spread the Gospel. Subsequently well-formed feet became associated with joy and happiness. Literature abounds with reference to this. Prior to modern medicine illness and deformity were regarded as a form of demonic possession. Many contagious diseases of the time left deformities like flat feet.

First footing remains a strong tradition in rural areas. The modern interpretation is after hearing the Bells of the New Year ring, friends visit each other's homes sharing goodwill and treating them to intoxicating liquor. The Celts held alcohol in very high esteem and was an important part of ritual. In the past first footing had practical purpose to small communities which allowed everyone in the village to meet the New Year with good cheer and more importantly, be able to leave their abode after being first footed. In Scotland families gather on Ner’day (New Year ‘s Day) and feast like the traditional Christmas Day. This represents the modern “gathering of the clans.” Certain foods are thought to bring good fortune for the New Year. These include a thick and tasty bowl of Scotch broth: Steak pie and a Clootie dumpling (a sweet fruit pudding). It is not uncommon in Celtic tradition to have an extra place set at table for unexpected guests.

(Video Courtesy: RayEve Boyle by Youtube Channel)

Auld Land Syne was a traditional air given lyrics by Robert Burns but this was not traditionally sang at Hogmanay until the 20th century after it was played at a New Year celebration in New York. The song and sentiment expressed was perfect for the occasion and have been associated ever since.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Slangevar and a Happy New Year to one and all.

Hogmanay in the Highlands 2018

Looking for somewhere to go to first foot this New Year

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Lord Snooty and his Pals (The Beano)

The fictional characters first appeared in the first edition of The Beano, on 30th July 1938. The strip (1938 – 1991) became the longest running in the comic’s history until Dennis the Menace and Gnasher overtook it.

The central character, Lord Marmaduke of Bunkerton, is known to his friends as Snooty and is a very ordinary boy who just happens to be an Earl, assisted, as always, by his butler, Parkinson. The strip was drawn by Dudley D. Watkins until his death in 1969, but Leo Baxendale and Albert Holroyd occasionally filled in for Watkins.

Lord Marmaduke (Snooty to his friends) of Bunkerton was fed up with living in a castle under the watchful eye of his Aunt Matilda (Aunt Mat), and took every opportunity to change into different clothes and have fun with his friends from Ash Can Alley. The original gang were Scrapper Smith, Hairpin Huggins, Skinny Lizzie, Rosie, Happy Hutton, Gertie the goat and later Snitch and Snatch. The sworn enemies of the Ash Can Alley were the Gasworks Gang, a group of ill-favoured yobs. Snooty was a popular hero andtriumphed because he shared the sufferings of his comrades while adding the gentlemanly virtues which they lacked.

During the Second World War, the story lines changed and sometimes Snooty and his pals tried to foil the plans of the Nazis' (and sometimes even, Hitler). After the war, the story lines reverted back and more and more featured the castle, despite the fact that the trash can alley gang were always present.

In 1949, the strip had an 18-month hiatus from the comic. On its return Snooty's original pals (from Ash Can Alley) were replaced with new pals who lived in the castle. The new gang were made up of previous characters from the Beano i.e. Big Fat Joe, Doubting Thomas, Swanky Lanky Liz, Contrary Mary the mule, Polly and her dog Pongo. This series of Lord Snooty continued until 1958, but a large amount of strips were not by Watkins; some of them were by Leo Baxendale, who also drew several Biffo the Bear strips from around this time.

Between 1958 to 1959, the strip was again rested before the comic began reprinting older Lord Snooty strips. Watkins returned to drawing the strip in 1964 and continued until 1968, a year before he died. Robert Nixon took over and continued to draw it for the next few years, before being succeeded by Jimmy Glen in 1973. Ken H. Harrison took over in 1988, and continued to draw it until the strip disappeared from The Beano in 1991. In the later years Snooty's personality took a turn for the worse. The character was axed because it became difficult to write strips, readers could no longer relate to.

Lord Snooty did reappear several times including a special appearance in the Bash Street Kids Book 2001, along with Snitch and Snatch. He also popped up in a one-off strip called 'Lord Snooty's Day out', Beano issue 3093 (2001), and was drawn by Robert Nixon. In 2003, in issue 3185, as part of the 65th anniversary issue he made another guest appearance alongside The Bash Street Kids. Then again in the 70th anniversary issue of the Beano there was a specially-drawn Fred's Bed strip which included Lord Snooty.

In the Beano serial, Are We There Yet? (2005) by writer-artist Kev F Sutherland, once again Snooty was briefly revived and up dated as Snoot Doggy-Dogg. The character was often acknowledged but did not come to prominence again until he was used as a villain for a feature length Bash Street Kids story again illustrated and written by Kev F Sutherland. The plot saw him, and a few other retro Beano characters such as Keyhole Kate and Pansy Potter, trying to take over The Beano and return it to its post-war roots. He failed, and was defeated by The Bash Street Kids.

In January 2013, Lord Snooty was brought back alongside a number of old Beano characters as a three panel strip in a new section of the Beano called Funsize Funnies. Lord Snooty ended in the penultimate issue before the 75th Anniversary Special. But he is set to return in a strip by Lew Stringer

Lord Snooty III (Marmaduke's grandson) started to appear as a regular strip in the Beano (2008), drawn by Nigel Parkinson. He is a repulsive boy who wallows in wealth. Snooty III also has a long-suffering and sarcastic butler named Parkinson. He has also formed his own gang, consisting of an adolescent named Naz, a young Black girl named Frankie, Emo, and One and Three the triplets (who claim that two does not 'hang out' with them much). The strip did not prove popular among readers and the comic series officially ended in 2011 after making less frequent appearances.

Read more
Watkins D. (1998)The Legend of Lord Snooty and his Pals D.C.Thomson & Co Ltd This contains a history and reprints from the first 30 years of the strip's life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Scottish Christmas


The Scots word "Yule" comes from the Old Norse "jól, which was the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Traditionally 'Yultid' referred to the twelve days between December 25th and January 6th. It is thought the Vikings brought the celebration of Yuletide to Scotland. In any event the mid-winter festival blended with the Celtic Festival of Samhain. In Pagan tradition emphasis was placed on light and heat. The Yule log was a Norse custom and burning of the Yule was a celebration of the sun during the winter months. Most ancient superstitions surrounding Yuletide were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbor. Many superstitious people keep a piece on the log from the previous year, as a lucky talisman. According to tradition it was extremely unlucky for a barefooted woman or a squint eyed man to see the yule log; and a flat footed visitor to the house whilst the log was burning was a very bad omen. Keeping Christmas cake or the remains of the Yule Log under the bed was also thought to help get rid of chilblains. The log has subsequently influenced other Christmas traditions including desserts such as log shaped cakes.

Sprigs of mistletoe were hung from ceilings and in doorways to bring luck and ward off evil spirits. Druids believed mistletoe had both medicinal and magical properties and kissing under the mistletoe was a common fertility right. In the pre Christian era pagans decorated their homes with holly and other evergreens as a symbol of the renewal of life.

Festival of the Dead (Samahain)

According to Celtic myth Lugh, the Sun God was defeated by his dark side and become the Lord of Misrule. Good folk needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Samhain was the great gathering of the clans and if you watched The Highlander film or TV series you will of heard of the Great Gathering. Well there was such an event and it took place in the mid winter. Samhain was celebrated on three levels. It was a time of plenty as the live stock were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead; it was a time of great kinship, as the hill dwellers came to the gathering; and was the time of year when the darkness of night prevailed over the lightness of the day.

In pre-Christian times, Samhain was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. Halloween or the beginning of the Festival of the Dead and Hogmanay , the end as beginning of the New Year. Many rituals and superstitions from that time still prevail and are incorporated into modern Christmas customs. Christmas was called the Festival of Light in the Western or Latin Church. Lighting candles and lamps helped return the light and warmth as well as chasing away the spirits of darkness.

Christmas Day

Christians have celebrated Christmas Day since 336AD and the earliest known Christmas Day celebrations were in York, England in AD 521 by King Arthur. The establishment of Roman Catholicism in Scotland was in the 5th and 6th centuries, and gradually Pagan winter solstice traditions were incorporated although merriment and religious devotion were not associated in the early church, ultimately they became incorporated due to political pressures.

By the 11th century, after the Norman Conquest, Princess Margaret fled north and was shipwrecked on the Scottish coast in 1068. She married King Malcolm III and was a devout Catholic who worked to bring the Scottish Church practice in line with that of the continental church of Hungary, where she grew up. Queen Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045 – 1093), was sometimes called “The Pearl of Scotland” and many believe her strong Christian beliefs helped turn the previously pagan Yuletide season into a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. By the twelfth century Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. The obsolete feasts of pagan antiquity were gradually adapted to the main events of the life of Christ. In retrospect it is very difficult to separate occult beliefs and the sacred doctrine since they have become complexly intertwined. By the 16th century the Christmas days were associated with games and feasting.

To promote universal celebration of the birth of Christ the main churches eventually agreed to accept Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Western Church this ran from Christmas Day until Epiphany, (January 6th). Some believers consider the first day of the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on the eve of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different religious calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7th. They observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th. In the Western church, Epiphany (Three Kings Day) is usually celebrated as the day the Wise Men (or Magi) arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally at the end of the Twelve Days a feast was held and gifts were given.

People ate cake (King Cake) and drank alcohol on Twelfth Night. Once December 25th became acknowledged as the main festival day, then exchanging gifts became part of the celebration. As the Twelfth Day marked the end of the Christmas celebrations then all Christmas decorations required to be removed from the house otherwise misfortune would follow.

Nollaig Beag

In the Scottish Highlands, Nollaig Bheag (little Christmas) refers to New Year's Day, also known as Là Challuinn, or Là na Bliadhna Ùire, while Epiphany is known as Là Féill nan Rìgh, the feast-day of the Kings. In Ireland Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas and is celebrated on January 6. Domestic roles are reversed and men cook and care for their woman folks. Women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers.

The Scottish Reformation

The Scottish Reformation arose when Scotland formally broke away from the Papacy in 1560. This was part of the wider European Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, culminated ecclesiastically in the re-establishment of the church along Reformed lines and politically in the triumph of English influence over the Kingdom of France. The Scottish Kirk and the state were closely linked and once the pope’s authority was repudiated, celebration of the Mass was forbidden. Attitudes to traditional Christian feasting days, including Christmas, were reviewed and all festival days and other church holidays were abolished. The celebration of Christmas was regarded as a "Popish festival" and charges were brought against people for keeping "Yule". John Knox, the leader of the Presbyterian movement, banned the celebration of Christmas in Scotland in 1580. He saw the holiday (including St. Nicholas) as one created by the Catholic Church and instead favored the continuation of Hogmanay as a time to celebrate new life.

By 1583, Bakers who made the Yule breads (mincemeat pies) were fined but their punishment could be lessened if they gave the names of their customers. Instead many bakers mincemeat pies became smaller and easier to hide. On 27 December 1583, five people in Glasgow were brought before the kirk session and sternly ordered to make public repentance for ‘keeping Yule’. During the Christmas of 1605, five Aberdonians were prosecuted for going through the town ‘maskit and dancing with bellis’

The Act of 1640

In 1640 the Parliament of Scotland abolished Christmas (the "Yule vacance and all observation thereof in time coming). This Act was partly repealed in 1686, when Episcopalianism was briefly in ascendancy within the Kirk.

"... the kirk within this kingdom is now purged of all superstitious observation of days... therefore the said estates have discharged and simply discharge the foresaid Yule vacation and all observation thereof in time coming, and rescind and annul all acts, statutes and warrants and ordinances whatsoever granted at any time heretofore for keeping of the said Yule vacation, with all custom of observation thereof, and find and declare the same to be extinct, void and of no force nor effect in time coming."

The reformed church intended Christmas as a day of prayer and to stamp out frivolity, prescribed Christmas as a working day. Anyone who defied the new laws and continued their festivities were fined and in some cases imprisoned. Bakers were encouraged to inform on their customers. Catholics continued to celebrate Christmas and went to Church before work, or at Lunchtime, or in the evening. They would have a Christmas Tree and a Christmas Dinner.

Oliver Cromwell imposed a ban on Christmas in 1644 on the grounds any celebration was a heathen practice, and ordered Christmas to be kept as a fasting day. According to a letter entitled The Scots Demonstration of Their Abhorrence of Popery, with all its Adherents (1680), Edinburgh University students held a Christmas burning of an effigy of the Pope. “Our Chriftmafs, this morning very pleasantly began” begins the letter, describing how the students burnt the effigy in public, despite a plea by authorities against “tumultuous affemblies.”

The Restoration

The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II (1660–1685) after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The return of Charles II marked a reversal of the stringent Puritan morality. In Scotland, Episcopacy was reinstated. With the Restoration of the Monarchy came the restoration of Christmas. In Scotland, the rigid laws of the new Kirk still frowned upon Christmas celebration, so it stayed underground. Only the High church and the Catholics kept the old traditions going. In England many of the symbolisms and earlier religious elements were lost, and it took the intrepid Victorian historians to gather together the remnants and re-establish Christmas. English custom was not particularly accepted by Scotland with many of the opinion the English celebration was an attempt to emulate Hogmanay. Others viewed it, as a time for Victorian ‘do good’ers’ to exercise charity to the less privileged. The inherent need to celebrate came out in Scotland as a great revival of the New Year celebrations. Christmas in Scotland continued to be a working day and December 25 only become a public holiday in 1958. Boxing Day was not recognised as a festive holiday until 1974. Fading influence of the Kirk and influence from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, eventually meant Christmas time in Scotland began to celebrate the Festive Season with all the trimmings.

(Video Courtesy: Anthony Hunt by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 20/12/2018