Scottish Wedding Traditions

Scottish Wedding blessing

Mle filte dhuit le d'bhrid,
Fad do r gun robh thu sln.
Mran lithean dhuit is sth,
Le d'mhaitheas is le d'n bhi fs.

Translated as:
"A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief,
may you be healthy all your days.
May you be blessed with long life and peace,
may you grow old with goodness and with riches."

This is attributed to the Rev. Donald MacLeod, minister of Duirinish, Skye, Scotland c. 1760.

Traditional Scottish Marriage vows (Bid psaidh anns a' Ghidhlig)

Groom (Am fear)

I, "name" now take you "name" to be my wife. In the presence of God and before these witnesses, I promise to be a loving, faithful and loyal husband to you, for as long as we both shall live. (Tha mise "ainm" a-nis 'gad ghabhail-sa "ainm" gu bhith 'nam chile phsda. Ann am fianais Dh 's na tha seo de fhianaisean tha mise a' gealltainn a bhith 'nam fhear psda dleas grdhach agus tairis dhuitsa, cho fad's a bhios an dthis againn be.)

Bride (A' bhean)

I, "name" now take you "name" to be my husband. In the presence of God and before these witnesses I promise to be a loving, faithful and loyal wife to you, for as long as we both shall live. (Tha mise "ainm" a-nis 'gad ghabhail-sa "ainm" gu bhith 'nam chile phsda. Ann am fianais Dh 's na tha seo de fhianaisean tha mise a' gealltainn a bhith 'nam bhean phsda dhleas ghrdhach agus thairis dhuitsa, cho fad's a bhios an dthis againn be.

The older religious form would change the ending to: until God shall separate us by death (..., gus an dan Dia leis a' bhs ar dealachadh.)

White Heather

white heatherThe traditional Scottish token of good luck for weddings is to wear a sprig of white heather (Calluna Vulgaris). According to legend in ancient Scotland, the famous bard, Ossian, had a daughter named Malvina, who was both beautiful and sweet natured. She won the heart of Oscar, a handsome warrior and they became betrothed. But Oscar left in search of fame and fortune. As time passed, Malvina's heart became heavy. On a beautiful autumn day, she sat with her father talking about her love on a Highland hillside when a ragged messenger staggered towards them. He brought the terrible news that Oscar had been killed in battle. The messenger held out a spray of purple heather to Malvina, a last gift from Oscar, and told her that he had died whispering her name and pledging his love. In her grief, Malvina ran over the hillside, weeping bitterly. Where her tears fell, the purple heather turned pure white. When she saw this, she said, "May this white heather forever bring good fortune to all those who find it".

Medieval Scottish wedding traditions

It was normal practice in olden times for an entire village to get involved in the preparations for a marriage. People would line the streets to the church to cheer on the happy couple before they took their vows. In pre-reformation times, there is evidence that two Scottish wedding services would frequently take place. One in which the priest would address the party in Scots dialect and lead a ceremony outside the church. Whilst the more formal Latin mass and nuptial ceremony would take place inside.

The exchange of the rings has been a main feature in Scottish wedding ceremonies from ancient times, for a ring has no beginning and no end and as such symbolizes the enduring love within a marriage.

Following the church ceremony, a piper would frequently lead the wedding party down the streets, often to a relative's house, for a night of celebration, feasting and enjoyment. Local musicians would get the dancing started, and tradition has it that the first dance, normally a reel, would involve the newly wed couple. When the celebrations were over, the married couple would leave to spend the night in their new home.

The ancient tradition of carrying the bride over the doorstep was linked to the superstition that evil spirits inhabit the thresholds of doors. Hence the bride is lifted over the thresholds and into the wedding bed. In medieval times, a priest would often bless the house and bless the wedding bed at this time. Then for the first time, as man and wife, the newly weds would have some quality time on their own.

Modern Scottish Wedding Traditions

The bride's mother often holds an open house for a traditional "show of presents." Invitations are sent to those who gave wedding gifts to the couple and the wedding gifts are unwrapped and set out for viewing. After the show of presents, the bride-to-be is often dressed up and her friends escort her through her town, singing and banging pots and pans, heralding the wedding day. This tradition has evolved into the legendary 'hen night'.

A bridegroom's stag night, likewise has ancient roots. The young man accompanied by his friends heads to town and often drank to excess. One tradition has it that in smaller towns the groom-to-be would be stripped of his clothes and left in the street outside his home or even tied to a lamp post!

The day of the ceremony can be filled with grandeur and the drone of the pipes. Today, the bagpipes are often used to add atmosphere and grandeur to a wedding. The piper, in full Highland dress, stands at the church door and plays as the guests arrive. Later, he leads the couple from the church to the car. The married couple are frequently piped to the table of honor along with the bridal party. With the cutting of the cake, again a piper is often asked to perform and the piper may even supply his dirk or highland dagger to start the 'cutting of the cake'. As the bride slices the first piece of cake, custom dictates that her hand is guided by that of her new husband.

Traditional Gaelic hymns are often played at Scottish weddings and the bride is frequently piped down the aisle. The 'Highland Wedding' tune is still a feature today at many ceremonies in Scotland.

The wedding ring, until the late 20th century tended to be for the bride, and not the groom. Today, both bride and groom now wear rings for the most part. The traditional Scottish gold wedding band dates back to the 1500's. This style of ring is still popular as a wedding ring today as are Celtic knot work designed engagement and wedding rings. The reason for wearing the rings on the third finger comes down to us from the Romans. They believed that the vein on this finger ran directly to the heart.

Traditional Scottish Dress

There is little doubt that traditional Scottish outfits add a touch of class and splendor to the wedding day and its associated ceremonies. Whilst the bride's white gown and veil has its roots in more modern times. A Scottish bride will usually wear a traditional white or cream wedding gown. She might wear a horseshoe on her arm for good luck, or a pageboy might deliver one to her as she arrives at the ceremony. Bridesmaids may wear whatever the bride has chosen to match her dress and it may include a little tartan accessory. Bouquets may include tartan ribbons or bows. Tradition says 'sew a hair onto the hem of a wedding dress for luck', or 'let a drop of blood fall onto an inner seam'. The bride must never try on a completed dress in advance of her wedding day. To facilitate this tradition a small section of the hem is left unsewn by the dressmaker until the last moment.

The grooms party and her father may come to the wedding resplendent in full Highland dress in the traditional tartan of their clans. The use of highland dress and the kilt, jacket, dirk and sporran in Scottish weddings has continued over the centuries. A gent's highland wedding outfit in its entirety consists of the following: Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and waistcoat, kilt, tartan flashes to match kilt, white hose, gillie brogues, kilt pin, sgian dubh, black belt with buckle, formal sporran with chain strap, wing collar shirt, black or coloured bow tie, and a piece of lucky heather in the lapel. He also has the option of wearing a fly plaid, which is anchored under the epaulette on the shoulder of the jacket and secured by a large plaid brooch.

For the bride, a universal custom is the 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'. The mother will often provide the something old to her  daughter to start her off in her married life, symbolizing the passing on a bit of mother's wisdom. The 'something new' can be the brides dress! The 'something new' at the wedding can become the 'something old' or something borrowed' at the next generations weddings. The bride sometimes wears a blue garter (symbolizing love) which plays a part later at the wedding reception. There are two likely sources for this. Roman women used to border their robes with blue as a sign of modesty, love, and fidelity. Also blue is the color normally associated with Mary the mother of Jesus who is often used to symbolize steadfast love, purity, and sincerity. It was also traditional in some areas for the bride to put a small silver coin in her shoe to bring her good luck.

After the wedding ceremony, it is traditional for flowers, petals, or pretty paper confetti to be thrown at the departing couple. In some rural areas, the couple throw coins to the children who have gathered outside the church to watch. This is called a scramble. As the couple leave the ceremony, the groom dips his hands into his pockets (or sporran), and throws all his loose change out on the ground for the children to scramble for.

Another tradition frequently seen during the evening wedding festivities involves the bride throwing her bridal bouquet, usually white roses, over her left shoulder. Her female non-attached bridesmaids and other single women in the bridal party stand in a line behind her. The girl who catches the thrown flower posy is by tradition going to be the next in the group to get married.

Traditional wedding reception festivities can easily last all night and the newly-wed couple lead off the dancing. Before the evening is finished the bride and groom leave as quietly and secretly as they can and go to a pre-arranged destination for their wedding night. At the end of the evening, guests often gather in a circle before leaving and sing "Auld Lang Syne".

Before the Ceremony

  • luckenbrooch Called the Luckenbooth because they were sold from the locked booths of the Royal Mile, adjacent to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, this type of love token goes back to at least the 1600s. Luckenbooths were traditionally exchanged between lovers on betrothal. They were later pinned to the shawl of the first baby to protect it from evil spirits. There are many surviving antique brooches of this type in museums in Scotland. Some of these were made by traveling tinkers and sold to gentlemen for their ladies. Some have passed from generation to generation to become valuable heirlooms. Sometimes inscribed phrases such as " Of earthly joys thou art my choice." are evidence of their purpose. They are probably the most romantic type of brooch in Scotland's history, hence their enduring appeal. Many people know about the traditional Claddagh ring of Ireland with its crowned heart but fewer know of this wonderful traditional love token.
  • Penny Bridal or Silver Bridal were renown for feasting, drinking, dancing and fighting and were enjoyed by all except the clergy - who disapproved of such raucous behavior. Gifts were made to the newly weds towards the cost of the wedding feast and the wild celebrations started on the eve of the wedding with singing, toasts and the ceremony of 'feet washing'.
  • A tub of water was placed in the best room. A wedding ring from a happily married woman was placed in the tub and it was believed that whoever found the ring would be the next to get married. The bride to be placed her feet into the tub and her female friends then gathered around to help wash them. The men folk would gather outside the door making jokes and attempting to watch through the doorway. The bridegroom was then seized by the women and made to sit at the tub. His legs were none too gently daubed with soot, ashes and cinders!
  • Before the big day, the bride's mother holds an open house for a traditional "show of presents." Similar to a bridal shower, invitations are sent to the women who gave wedding gifts to the couple. The wedding gifts are unwrapped and set out with the card of the gift giver. The occasion is an opportunity for the bride to get acquainted with the wedding party members and guests before the wedding. After the show of presents, the bride is dressed in long trains made of old curtains or other household materials. She is given a baby doll, a plastic potty with salt in the bottom, and other small items to carry. Her friends and guests escort her through her town, singing and banging pots and pans, heralding the bride's upcoming nuptials. To gather luck, the bride exchanges kisses for money, which is dropped into the potty.
  • Although originating more from a British tradition than a Scottish one, the groom is often dressed up and taken out on the town for his stag night by his male friends. More often, he and his friends would find a bar or party place to celebrate by drinking. There is a great deal of harmless practical joking, of which the groom is the main target. When the wild night winds down, the groom may be left in the street in front of his home partially or totally stripped of his clothes, and in some occasions tied up. The Highland groom of the past often had to endure an old custom known as creeling. A large basket or 'creel', was filled with stones and tied to the bridegroom's back. He then had to carry it around the entire town unless his bride agreed to kiss him. Only if she did, would his friends allow him to escape; otherwise he had to continue until he had completed the circuit of the town.

The Wedding Morning

  • The Bride is given a Silver Sixpence to place in her shoe the morning of her wedding as a token of good luck!
  • When she leaves home for the last time as a single girl, she should step out of the house with her right foot for luck.
  • All the best bridal carriages used to be pulled by grey horses and it is still considered good luck to see a grey horse on the way to the church.
  • As the bridal party make their way to the church, flower petals are thrown in front of the bride. If they encounter a funeral or a pig on the way, it was considered bad luck and they would return home and set out again. The first person they encounter was called the first foot and would be given a coin and a drink of whisky by the bride. He would then have to accompany the bridal party for one mile before being allowed to continue on his way.
  • Just outside the church they would be met by the clergyman and make their wedding vows. Then a mass was held in the church, during which the clergyman blessed food brought by the guests. It was traditional for the clergyman, however shy, to kiss the bride.

The Ceremony

  • It would not be a Scottish wedding without the bride entering the wedding venue and the wedding couple departing to the sound of bagpipes.
  • Hand fasting is a Celtic wedding ceremony dating from at least the Middle Ages. It was a temporary marriage that lasted for a year and a day. Most villages and towns in Scotland did not a have local minister or priest to perform a marriage ceremony, so, couples would perform a hand fasting which legally bound them until someone of the clergy would pass through the village and could perform a formal ceremony. In a modern ceremony, a hand fasting is sometimes incorporated into the wedding ceremony as a way to honor their Celtic heritage. The couples' hands are bound together in a cord or a tartan cloth during their vows. This is to show that from that point forward, they are no longer two, but one!
  • Following the proclamation of husband and wife, "The pinning of the tartan" ceremony may take place. This ceremony is modified depending on whether the bride or the groom is being accepted into the clan. If the bride is marrying into the clan, any member of the groom's family may present the bride with clan tartan in the form of a rosette pin or sash which is fastened with the clan badge.
  • Many celebrations may also include the "Presentation of the sword". There are several variants. The groom may present his bride with a family sword that will be given to their first born son or; the bride's family would present the groom with their sword as an act of acceptance into the family and signifying the obligation and responsibility to now protect her.

After the Ceremony

  • One Scottish tradition is for a toddler to hand a horseshoe to the bride as she walks out of the church with her husband. There is a nice story about the devil asking a blacksmith to shoe his single hoof.  When the blacksmith recognized his customer, he carried out the job as painfully as possible until the devil roared for mercy. He was released on condition that he would never enter a place where a horseshoe was displayed. A horse shoe carried by the bride is considered a symbol of fertility and good luck in the marriage
  • As a gesture to insure good fortune in marriage, many couples opt to continue the tradition of the scramble. Upon leaving the church, the bride and groom scatter coins to the assembled children to collect. Legend has it that this token will be constantly returned to the couple throughout the marriage.

The Reception

  • The Ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee") is Gaelic for party or gathering.
  • The traditional Scottish wedding cake consists of two tiers of brandy-flavored fruitcake. The cake is baked at the time of the couple's engagement. Only one tier is eaten at the wedding celebration, while the other is saved to celebrate the birth of the couple's first born.
  • The new couple lead off the dancing, usually with a traditional reel. The bride's second dance is reserved for the person of the highest rank among the guests.
  • The Sword Dance is usually performed at a traditional wedding in Scotland.
  • It was the privilege of the bride to choose the music for the 'Shaim Spring', which she danced with the bridegroom maids and best man.
  • Guests may gather in a circle before leaving the reception and sing "Auld Lang Syne".

After the Reception

  • The entire wedding party may escort the young couple to their new home or their lodging for the night. Before the bride enters her new home, an oatcake or bannock is broken above her head and a piece of the cake is passed around to everyone. Then the bride is carried over the threshold. The Minister gives his blessing over the newlyweds, their home, and their marriage bed and the day draws to a close for everyone except the couple.