Photographing in Scotland regularly introduces us to interesting Scottish wedding traditions. Scotland is not unique in retaining its wedding traditions but the fact that these traditions are at most weddings is rare enough to be special.
The most visible show of Scottish wedding traditions is the kilt outfit. The first historical mention of anything like a kilt in Scotland is in a document written in 1594, the first illustration of a Scottish kilt from the beginning of the 17th Century. At that time the kilt looked like a large piece of cloth, much like a shawl, from head to knees, gathered into rough pleats and belted around the waist. This was called a feilidh-mòr or great wrap. Near the end of the 17th Century it developed into the feilidh-beag or little wrap, presumably because this was a more practical piece of clothing.
Over the years it has developed from everyday wear to formal clothing with the additions of tailored pleats, kilt pins, ornate belts and Argyll or Prince Charlie jackets. It’s a striking look and surprisingly enjoyable to wear.
The sgian dubh is a small knife worn in the left sock. It was originally used for personal protection in the 17th and 18th century and kept hidden in the armpit. It’s now included for decorative purposes. A stag antler sgian dubh looks fantastic as part of a kilt outfit.
Of all the Scottish wedding traditions, wearing tartan is one of the most colourful and most recognisable. The earliest form of tartan found in Scotland is the Falkirk Tartan, a simple check pattern, dating from 325 AD. Tartan has been around for a lot longer than that though.
On the 1st August 1746 England created the Act of Proscription to crush any dissent by the Scots. Part of that Act was to ban Highland wear, including tartan. The act was repealed on 1st July 1782 and following that Scottish clan tartans began to develop. During the victorian era they were hugely popular, particularly as Queen Victoria was a fan of tartan and Scotland.
Finally, to put peoples minds at ease; there are no rules for wearing kilts or tartans. You don’t have to be a member of a Scottish clan or born in Scotland to wear one. If you want to look fantastic and wearing a kilt will help you feel that way then do it!
Handfasting is often part of wedding ceremonies in Scotland. It is cited as the reason we say “tying the knot”. Handfastings were used in the past as a form of temporary commitment to a partner. Couples would spend a year and a day together before committing to a permanent marriage. Lest we see this through romantic modern eyes this was not originally an egalitarian tradition but simply an opportunity for the man to take his time to decide if his bride was worth marrying.
Thankfully times have changed and it’s now one of the more romantic Scottish wedding traditions. Humanists in Scotland often use handfastings to symbolise the joining of two people and two families in a celebration of love.
The Quaich is often referred to as ‘the loving cup’. Couples pour whiskey into the bowl and then share the drink with each other and their family. As it requires two hands to hold the quaich it is seen as a sign of trust to drink from it.
Quaichs have been around for centuries. In 1589 King James VI of Scotland gave a Quaich to Anne of Denmark as a wedding gift and as Scottish wedding traditions go it has the gift of both a keepsake and an opportunity for a dram during the ceremony. That’s two pretty good reasons why it has continued through to this day.
A wedding in Scotland isn’t complete without a ceilidh (pronounced kaylee). Of all the Scottish wedding traditions, this one is the most fun to photograph. Originally a ceilidh was simply a social gathering of any type and involved storytelling, poems and ballads but it is now know for traditional Scottish dancing.
These dances are performed in groups with set moves, much like a line dance or square dance. The ceilidh band has a caller who teaches you the moves before each set so there’s no reason for not getting up to enjoy yourself if you have never been to a ceilidh before (though knowing a polka or waltz helps a lot)
The dances are often energetic and lively, mirroring the music, with fantastic names like Strip the Willow, The Gay Gordons and The Dashing White Sergeant. Strip the Willow is a big favourite at weddings and will leave dancers breathless at the end of it.
Last Dance Of The Night
The last dance of the night is often Loch Lomond or Auld Lang Syne. Everyone gathers on the dance floor, in a circle, holding hands. When the song starts everyone joins in with the singing. During the chorus, while still holding hands, everyone rushes to the centre of the circle and back again. It’s a great song to close off a wedding. As is often the case with Scottish wedding traditions involving dancing, it’s lively, exuberant and incredible fun.
Some Less Common Wedding Traditions
Putting a sixpence in the bride’s shoe is supposed to bring good luck.
This is one of the more unusual Scottish wedding traditions. It involves covering the bride and groom in a tacky substance, like treacle, and feathers. Essentially it’s a fun and friendly ritual to get the couple dirty to symbolise the trials and tribulations of marriage as well as the support your marriage provides you both. Interestingly, the origins of this come from the solemn ritual of feet washing; a cleansing becoming a dirtying.
The Wedding Scramble
This is quite popular in the country communities. When the bride and groom leave the church the father of the bride tosses coins in the air for all the kids to ‘scramble’ and collect.
We’ve been at one wedding where this happened. The cocktail of alcohol is made by the bride and groom before the wedding. In the evening of the wedding the cocktail is poured into a wooden bucket with two handles on either side, much like a large quaich. It’s then passed around the guests so they can take a drink. It’s not a surprise to us that another of the Scottish wedding traditions involve alcohol by the bucket!