The Best Scottish Christmas Traditions
The best Scottish Christmas traditions is a fascinating topic thanks to the variety of eras and cultures they borrow from and the 400-year ban on celebrating the holiday completely. So if you’re planning on spending any portion of the festive season in Scotland, here’s what you need to know about local traditions to impress friends and family. We’ve also added some tips on fun Christmas and Hogmanay activities in Inverness to help plan your itinerary.
The History of Christmas in Scotland
Back in pagan times, the winter solstice was widely celebrated in Scotland, marking the longest night of the year. People would bring greenery from the outside in to show that life continued in the darkness, even decorating a tree much like we do today.
By the early middle ages, the Celts knew Christmas as Nollaig Beag or Little Christmas, and celebrations centred around the birth of Christ. Candles were lit in the windows to guide the Holy Family on their way. Mince pies started to be baked, and the filling included the fruit and spices we still use these days, but mincemeat was also included and the pies were large enough to feed friends and neighbours.
Before the Scottish Reformation in 1560, Christmas was commonly known as yule in Scotland and celebrated in a similar way to the rest of the then-Catholic countries. Then, the Reformation of the Scottish church happened and celebrating Christmas largely dropped out of the Scottish shared consciousness, with an outright ban on traditional celebrations. Among other things, baking mince pies became prohibited, leading clever bakers to start making them in the smaller size we know them today so they’d be easier to hide.
Crazy as it may sound, Christmas was not widely celebrated in Scotland again until the 20th century! Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day in 1971. Before this, people generally worked on these days, having only a light Christmas meal after work and saving their energy for Hogmanay celebrations a week later.
Christmas Day Traditions today
These days, Christmas in Scotland is celebrated in a very similar way to the rest of the UK and many other European and English-speaking countries. Lights are strung up across towns for the festive season and Christmas markets sell locally made goods. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning followed by a big feast of turkey with all the trimmings later in the day. Many people will watch the Queen’s speech at 3 PM and spend the rest of the day watching TV and playing games with their family.
Many of the historically Scottish Christmas traditions have slowly died out, though some people still burn rowan tree branches in the fireplace to clear animosity between friends, family members and neighbours. And of course, people still widely enjoy their bite-sized (meat-free) mince pies and a dram or two of whisky!
During the time that Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated in Scotland, much of the feasting and gift-giving associated with it took place during another public holiday: Hogmanay – New Year’s Eve and the few days surrounding it. This partly explains why Hogmanay is such a big and colourful celebration in Scotland to this day, with massive street party celebrations in Edinburgh, extravagant firework displays and ancient Viking fire festivals to drive away bad spirits.
The Hogmanay tradition most widely celebrated in the rest of the English-speaking world is the singing of Auld Lang Syne. This song written by national poet Robert Burns became an anthem for New Year’s celebrations thanks to its lyrics celebrating the passing of time, ushering in a new period and having a drink for old time’s sake. The song is commonly started as the clocks strike midnight on New Year’s Eve, with people in the streets crossing arms and singing in unison.
Spend Christmas and New Year in Inverness
The Scottish Highlands are a majestic sight during the holiday period: snow-capped mountains and beautiful old towns and villages lit by Christmas lights make the region a truly romantic holiday destination.
Celebrate the festive season in Inverness with a visit to Whin Park’s winter wonderland with the kids to meet Santa, seeing a panto at Eden Court Theatre and with some Christmas shopping . The Christmas lights are switched on in mid-November and it’s quite the event, so do come along if you’re in town for it!
For something to burn off some of those mince pies, join in on the annual Santa Run or head out for a wintry hike around Inverness. You could even drive down to Aviemore to pay a visit to the only free-roaming reindeer herd in the UK!
Hogmanay in Inverness is celebrated with the annual Red Hot Highland Fling, a huge, free outdoor concert attracting 10,000 people featuring Scottish acts, fireworks and a huge Auld Lang Syne singalong in Northern Meeting Park.
Christmas breaks at Inverness Palace Hotel
Planning your Christmas break in Inverness is a breeze with the Palace Hotel. You can bring in the holiday cheer with a fabulously festive afternoon tea complete with Christmas-themed cakes and cocktails and mulled wine jellies – it’s the perfect chance to get all dressed up and indulge yourself! We also offer a number of fabulous festive breaks on our seasonal offers page complete with festive dining, entertainment and an all-inclusive bar every night.
Plus you won’t want to miss your new blog a guide to Christmas Shopping in Inverness