Scottish weddings of past were incredible; almost everything centred around the union of the couple, blessed with protection and luck. While there are still some traditions used in weddings today, there are definitely some we should be continuing to cherish.
Before the wedding
This tradition is lovely! A luckenbooth is traditionally given as a token of the groom’s love before his wedding and has a rich history, dating back to the 16th century. Originally known simply as a heart brooch, in the 18th century they became known as luckenbooths - the Gaelic word for the small silversmith stalls in Edinburgh City Centre which sold them. It is believed that soldiers, on their way to war, would buy a heart brooch for their sweetheart to keep until their return. Over the years, these simple silver brooches, as they found their way into the elite societies, became more and more elaborate, morphing into crowns, crowns with fleurs-de-lis, enamelling began to appear, as did gemstones.
Imagine it being tradition for your fiancé to buy your wedding dress?! That’s what used to happen; the only catch was that you bought his shirt, or ‘sark.’ I do wonder how many brides were lucky enough to be treated to their dream dress though…
It’s still very common in Scotland, for the groom to ask the bride’s father for her hand in marriage. However, in the past hopeful men were put through a series of challenges know as ‘the speerin’. Their potential father-in-law would only grant his approval if the series of tasks and trials were completed to a standard gaining his necessary approval. If you’re unsure about whether to marry or not, this might be a good way to test your partner’s love for you? Or perhaps, we should leave this tradition in history?
The ‘show of presents’ was a great way get the community involved. Guests were invited to the home of the bride - who still lived with her parents - before the wedding, where there was a presentation of all the gifts given, from small items like salt and pepper shakers, duvet covers, electrical items, to items of furniture, everything was on display, sometimes with name cards indicating who had given what. It was common for this event to be turned into a street party in celebration of the forthcoming nuptials. In the 1980s, as people sought more privacy, these displays were gradually phased out. While bridal showers are similar, they lack the community spirit traditionally found before a Scottish wedding.
It probably breaks a few health and safety laws but when I was younger, the wedding scramble was my favourite part of a wedding. To mark the moment a bride stepped into her wedding car, her father threw a handful of coins for the children to collect. The excitement felt when you left a wedding ladled with £1 or £2 still lives with me! Believed to bring about financial good fortune, the wedding scramble was popular all over Scotland; and not reserved for only the children in attendance…
Even more traditional is ‘The Wedding Walk’: a formal march taken by the wedding party to the church. Less common nowadays, the walk begins with a piper (or fiddler), who is followed by the groom leading the maid of honour, and behind them, the bride walks with the best man. It is still common to see the piper lead the bride and groom after the ceremony, with the best man and maid of honour behind them. Traditionally - and definitely less common now - luck was ensured by crossing running water twice during the walk. I love the idea planning a wedding with a venue where I'd be able to cross water - I’d think I’d want two different crossing points though!
As well as a party before wedding, it was common for there to be two distinct sections to a wedding day. In the first, the happy couple would take their vows in the entrance to the kirk (or church) for all of the village to witness and celebrate; the second part would be a more traditional ceremony, performed inside, following the more formal Latin mass and witnessed by friends and family. By introducing this, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about leaving people out: the initial vows would be witnessed by everyone!
I think it would be lovely to hear the tinkling of coins during a wedding ceremony and in the olden days, this did happen! At the start of the ceremony the groom was expected to give the priest or minister 13 silver coins - an ‘arrhae’. This would then be returned to the groom who would the pass them onto the bride, immediately, she would pass them back to him. The groom would then drop the arrahe onto a plate, the noise of which was intended to symbolise his promise to protect and provide for his wife. Her part in the proceeding was to pledge that they would share their wealth and manage their money sensibly.
Scottish flowers still play a part in wedding ceremonies but rather than preserving Scottish traditions, they’re usually used as part of the colour scheme. Let’s return to hiding a sprig of white heather in a bouquet (or under a bride’s dress) for good luck. It is believed that this idea comes from the tragic and yet beautiful “Legend of Lucky White Heather”, which you can read here:
Or if that’s too sorrowful, include some purple heather - a symbol of admiration.
After the wedding
There are two very different types of Scottish creeling. The first was a tradition in Southern Scotland and involved a fish filled basket. To ensure health and prosperity to the newlywed couple, two guests held the basket at the door of the church and when the couple made their way out, they cut the rope supporting it, so the basket fell to the ground.
The type I think we should bring back is the second! After his wedding day, the groom was forced to carry a basket (or creel) filled with stones across the village. The basket was strapped to his back and his friends followed behind him. His friends would only allow him to stop when his new wife ran out and kissed him, showing her satisfaction with her new husband.
Scots are well known for being frugal, so it’s no surprise there is the tradition of ‘A Penny Wedding’. When money was tight, instead of shelling out on an expensive wedding meal, the bride and groom requested that guests brought their own food and drinks to the reception. In return, guests were rewarded with an extra special wedding cake. What a superb idea!
Forget a lovey-dovey first dance! Instead, jump straight into the Traditional Grand March. In this dance, the newlyweds march around the dance floor to the sound of bagpipes. After a few beats, the best man and maid of honour join them in their circuit, then their mum’s and dad’s join in. Before long all of the guests should be involved, and everyone marching!
The Lang Reel is a perfect finale to your wedding day and would be amazing to do if most of your guests are spending the night! Traditionally, the dance was popular in the small fishing villages, where the wedding party - after starting in the harbour - danced through the village. As each couple passed their own home, they would leave the reel, so that eventually the bride and groom were alone and shared the last dance of the evening, before making their own way home.