- J. Douglas Ross (from several sources)
The celebration of the New Year is most truly one of the most Scottish of the holidays. The origin of the word Hogmanay is most probably from the Gaelic "Oge Maidne", which means "new morning". Long ago, the custom of "first footing", which derives from the good fairy of Norse folklore, became combined with other Scottish traditions. At midnight, the men folk set off to first foot their neighbours, and the first man to cross the threshold of a home in the New Year is the first foot. Each one carries a bottle of whisky and some thin oatcakes and the householder is offered a dram for good luck. Refreshment of more whisky or Atholl Brose, shortbread or Scotch Bun are offered in return. If a dark-haired man is the first foot, this augers well for the year; a red-head is unlucky, as is a woman.
I understand that the larger cities in Scotland "pretend" that they are celebrating Hogmanay by selling tickets to a huge street bash. Edinburgh began this form of large scale "festivity" back in 1992 for the European Union Heads of State Conference. Alas, things will never be the same as the golden years of Hogmanay again.
Old traditions are dying or being modified. Designated drivers and taxis of today tend to dampen the celebration and make it less neighbourly in some places. The main thing is to enjoy the moment and preserve some of the auld. Some of the "Steps to Hogmanay" are listed here for your perusal.
1. Scrub yer hoose.
- loosely based upon the January, 1984 issue of "an drochaid"
This annual tribute to the life, works and spirit of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759 - 1796), is celebrated on or about the Bard's birthday, January 25.
Scots have always enjoyed a feast, and probably always will. Whether we attend an organized Burns' Supper or a stay-at-home meal, we can enjoy some of the traditions. A Burns' Nicht at either extreme is mainly an informal affair ... no matter how planned it is.
More officious occasions might have pre-supper displays while the guests gather. This may be followed by a reception line, introductions and opening remarks by the chairman or host. Celebrants are called to the table and the meal is preceded by The Selkirk Grace, for which Burns is credited.
Some hae meat, an canna eat,
A Parade of the Haggis follows a first course of soup or fish. The chef carries the haggis, preceded by a piper playing "Brose and Butter" or some other appropriate tune. The haggis, marched in a more-or-less orderly fashion through the hall (or home or one-room apartment), is laid before the host chairman and a designated reciter addresses the haggis in the form of verses from Burns' Address to a Haggis. This is the moment of highest pomp during the evening as the haggis is quickly sliced open with the fine edge of a ceremonial dirk. [A guid dram of whisky is offered to all who are involved in this part of the ceremony. If you see the beverage spelled as "whiskey" anywhere in the programme, ye will ken that you are not in the company of Scots but must have wandered into a land of complete foreigners.]
The haggis is always served with chappit tatties and bashed neeps, traditionally washed down with neat whisky following an initial toast to the Immortal Bard of Ayr. This is only one of several courses and toasts.
After the meal (and a sweet dessert), there is time for songs, poems and refilling glasses. Lengthy programmes often include a biographical speech about Burns, selections or anecdotes read by individual celebrants to entertain the others, anything that honours the spirit of the occasion and original works or humour or "lost fragments of manuscripts" to be passed around. A light-hearted toast to the lassies, which gently lampoons a few shortcomings, must be followed by a rebuttal from the lassies, which savages the crudeness and inferiority of the laddies. No Burns Nicht would be complete without a recitation of Tam o' Shanter. The evening's festivities may continue with appropriate music, song and dance, until the chairman rises to thank the guests and to invite them to join in singing Auld Lang Syne (with lyrics printed for all revellers who may still be celebrating Hogmanay).
"Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." Mark Twain's analysis comes to mind when dealing with plaids and tartans (or the "Breacan").
Quite simply, a plaid puts two or more colours as stripes in the warp and crosses them with alternating stripes of weft colours. Any weave structure can be done as plaid. Any colours, fibres or textures can be chosen. In a "true plaid" the weft order duplicates the warp ends' number, density and colour order. However, plaids can be of whatever warp or weft sequences the weaver fancies. Checks are small plaids using few colours in warp and weft. Then, what would give our lowly plaids the distinction of being a "tartan"?
Using only one material in a smooth yarn (usually wool or silk), we would choose from a limited palette if we were being fully traditional. Certain blues, reds, a greyed green, clear yellow, black and white would be acceptable. The fabric would be done as a straight 2/2 twill, with a 45 degree angle. It would have an even number of ends of any colour (e.g., 12 blue, 4 red, 2 blue, etc.) and be woven as a "true plaid" (to square). The design would have the number and colour of its warp and weft ends registered as an authorized tartan, set down in the official books of Lord Lyon, King of Arms, at Lyon Court, Scotland.
Long before the tourist shops, 11th century Scots commonly wore checks, plaids and tartans in the poor northern Highlands. As years went by, the society developed a clan system, and specific tartans took some time to become established. Old rules were laid down and marked on little sticks, indicating the correct sett or pattern, regarding the number of threads needed and their colouration. These setts used to be found in every Highland cottage. Both Clans and tartans were banned after Culloden in 1745. When tartans again became legal in 1782, there was probably some loss of accuracy within patterns during the Highland Clearances. Newer types of tartans evolved (chief's, clan, formal dress, hunting, shepherd's, clergy, regimental and royal) to join the ranks. Donald Calder Stewart's book of setts (as well as one by Black and Tidball) are recognized as the standards.
On the subject of Highland Dress, a couple of pages from Scotland Through Her Country Dance by George S. Emmerson are presented here. Simply click on the illustration for a larger view and return by using the BACK button of your browser.
STORY OF THE KILT PIN
- excerpt from the September, 1983, issue of the CRA-Canada Newsletter.
Before the reign of Queen Victoria, the Scottish kilt was worn without the kilt pin now used to secure the foldover on the right-hand side. As a result, there were many embarrassing moments, especially if you wore the kilt in a high wind.
The awful truth was that nothing in the nature of an undergarment was worn with the kilt in the regimental tradition. [JOKE OF THE TIMES: Question: Is anything worn under the kilt? Answer: Nothing is worn; everything is in perfect condition, thank you.]
One Day Queen Victoria arrived on a visit to Balmoral Castle, and reviewed the Gordon Highlanders.
A stiff wind was blowing, and one young soldier, at rigid attention, was unable to control the flapping of his kilt and to avoid exposure on this important occasion.
The Queen noticed how much he was embarrassed. Walking over to him, she removed a pin from her own dress and, leaning over, pinned the overlap of his kilt.
And that ... believe it or not ... is the origin of the kilt pin, without which no kilted Scot would be properly dressed today.
- J. Douglas Ross
Yummmm! Whichever of the recipes is used (or whatever the occasion), don't forget the Address to a Haggis with proper flourishes. A meal might start with a bowl of Cock-a-Leekie soup. Nestle your serving of Haggis in some Tatties-an'-Neeps with a slice of Roastit Beef (if desired). Top this off with a sweet dessert and an aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Deoch Slainte!
The Authentic Haggis: [taken from Traditional Scots Recipes by Janet Murray]
There are many different ways of making a haggis as far as the composition of the materials is concerned. Some people like minced tripe in it, some do not; some only like a very small portion of the lights (lungs). This recipe is a standard one; you may make adjustments as you wish.
Obtain the large stomach bag of a sheep, also one of the smaller bags called the King's hood, together with the 'pluck' which is the lights, the liver and the heart. The bags take a great deal of washing. They must be washed first in running cold water, then plunged into boiling water and after that, they must be scraped. Take great care of the bag which is to be filled for if it is damaged it is useless. When you are satisfied it is as clean as you can make it, let it soak in cold salted water overnight. The pluck must also be thoroughly washed; you cook it along with the little bag.
Boil the pluck and the little bag in a large pot with plenty of water, (leaving the windpipe hanging over the side of the pot as this allows impurities to pass out freely) for about an hour and a half before removing it from the pot and allowing it to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid for later use.
When it is cold, start preparing the filling by cutting away the windpipe and any gristle and skin. Use only a third of the liver and grate it, then mince the heart, the lights, and the little bag. It may be that you find that the heart and the king's hood are not boiled enough in the hour and a half, and if so, put them back in the pot and boil until tender.
Chop finely one-half pound of beef suet.
Toast three handfuls of oatmeal (finely ground oats, or rolled oats; NOT the "instant" or "quick cooking" oats) on a cookie sheet in the oven, and then mix all the ingredients - minced lights, grated liver, minced heart, minced king's hood, suet, oatmeal, salt and a good shaking of black pepper. Make this into a soft consistency with the water in which the pluck,etc. was boiled; then place into the stomach bag. Fill only a little over half full as the mixture swells. Sew up the bag with strong thread and the haggis is now ready for cooking.
Use a pot which will easily hold the haggis, and place a plate or trivet in the bottom of the pan. Place the haggis on the trivet, and add water to almost cover the haggis. Bring the water to a boil, and keep it boiling steadily for three hours, pricking occasionally to allow air to escape.
The haggis should be served on a platter without garnish or sauce. [Another recipe plus the Address to a Haggis is included in the next item, More Haggis.]
- J. Douglas Ross
Haggis Recipe from The Scots Book of Lore & Folklore
For this, the greatest of Scots savouries, is required: a sheep's bag, and the small bag, the pluck complete (lights, liver, and heart), beef suet, onions, and oatmeal, with seasoning of salt and black pepper. Thoroughly clean the bag, and soak in cold salted water for at least twelve hours. Turn the rough side out. Wash the pluck and the small bag, cover them with cold water, and set to boil with the windpipe hanging over the side of the pot to let out impurities. Boil for an hour and a half, or two hours. Then take out, and cut away all gristle and pipes. Half the liver only will be required, grate this, and mince the heart and lights.
Make a mixture of this and half a pound of minced suet, a couple of finely chopped onions, and a large cupful of previously toasted oatmeal, all well moistened with some of the liquid in which the pluck was boiled. Put the mixture into the large bag, leaving plenty of room to swell. Sew the bag securely, and put it to boil in a large pot of hot water. Prick the bag all over with a darning needle as soon as it begins to swell, to prevent the possibility of its bursting. Boil steadily for three hours with the lid off the pot. Serve immediately.
A form of Haggis may be made without the sheep's bag, by putting the mixture into a buttered basin, and steaming it for about four hours.
Robert Burns: ADDRESS TO A HAGGIS
The closing stanza is said to have been composed extempore during a dinner at the home of John Morrison, a Mauchline cabinet-maker. The complete poem, written soon after Burns arrived in Edinburgh, appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on 19 December 1786 --- the first of Burn's poems to be published in any periodical. The earliest recipe for Haggis appeared shortly after, in Cookery and Pastry by Susanna Maciver.
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, cheerful Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Above Painch, tripe, or thairm: paunch/guts Weel are ye wordy of a grace worthy As lang's my arm. The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, buttocks Your pin wad help to mend a mill skewer In time o' need, While thro' your pores the dews distil Like amber bead. His knife see rustic Labour dight, wipe An' cut you up wi' ready sleight, skill Trenching your gushing entrails bright Digging Like onie ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin, rich! -steaming Then, horn for horn, they strech an' strive: spoon Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive, Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve, bellies/soon Are bent like drums; Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive, burst 'Bethanket!' hums. Is there that owre his French ragout Or olio that wad staw a sow, sicken Or fricassee wad mak her spew Wi' perfect sconner, disgust Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view On sic a dinner? Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as a wither'd rash, weak/rush His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash, His nieve a nit; fist/nut Thro' bluidy flood or field to dash, O how unfit! But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread. Clap in his walie nieve a blade, choice He'll make it whissle; An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned, trim Like taps o' thrissle. tops/thistle Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o'fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware watery That jaups in luggies; splashes/porringers But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer, Gie her a Haggis!
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- from the CRA-Canada Newsletter, August 1989
The theory that the game of golf was originated by a shepherd idly hitting a pebble with his crook is one amongst numerous whimsical and serious suggestions put forward by golf historians. It should surely be enough that for over five centuries it has been played keenly in Scotland, attaining the status of the national game.
It was certainly common enough in 1457 during the reign of James II to be banned along with football (soccer) as distracting the citizens from their archery practice! It is clear that the ban was ignored, for it had to be repeated in 1471 in the reign of James III and again in 1491 when penalties were decreed against players of "golfe, or uther sik unprofitabill sportis".
By 1502, however, James IV himself was converted to the game. According to the accounts of the Royal Treasurer, he paid fourteen shillings for clubs made by a bow-maker in Sainte Johnstoune, the ancient name for Perth. The royal patronage of the game continued under both James V and his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who was criticised for playing golf only a few days after the murder of her husband Darnley, Earl of Ross. The keenest royal golfer of all, however, was James VI of Scotland and I of England, who first popularised the game in the south.
- Sources include CRA-Canada Newsletters: Winter 1987 and Spring 1990.
Heather, a member of the plant family Ericaceae, is abundant on the acid soils of heaths and moors where they may form the dominant vegetation over considerable areas. Many of the species of purple Heaths and Lings are widespread from the British Isles to Western Asia.
The humble cot, in which the Highland cotter dwelt, used thinly-cut turf laid much in the fashion of slating to cover the roof. The turf was generally covered with heath, which was not only cheap but could last one hundred years if properly executed. A typical home consisted of a butt, a benn and a byar (a kitchen, an inner area and a place for cattle). Sleeping boxes lined every side (for large families) or formed a partial partition between the butt and benn. A sleeping box opened with a door in front, in which was a heath, or a bed, with a great number of blankets.
An Old Celtic Tale
The story of the white heather is an old, old tale and a sad one. The Celtic Bard Ossian had a daughter Malvina who was as fair as the dawn and gentle as the dew. She was betrothed to Oscar a warrior as gallant as he was handsome. Though he had wandered far in search of fame and beauty, no one held chief place in his heart save Malvina the fair.
Once in the glory of autumn, Malvina and her father were sitting on the moor's edge talking of Oscar's return from some warlike expedition. Over the heather came limping to them a ragged messenger. Wounded and weary he knelt before them. Holding out a spray of purple heather to Malvina, he told her that it came from Oscar as a last token of his love for he was slain in battle and his henchmen had barely escaped to bring the news.
As Malvina listened, her tears fell on the purple heather which immediately became white.
Ossian made mournful music for his daughter's dead lover and, as they wandered over the moors, her tears often fell upon the clumps of purple heather which immediately turned white. Then, even in the bitterness of her own sorrow, wishing that others may be happier than she, Malvina said, "Although it is the symbol of my sorrow, may the white heather bring good fortune to all who find it."