As we fly towards the winter holidays of Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah and Kwanza, let's take a moment to reflect on some of the traditions of Scotland during this time. Before Roman Catholicism was introduced to Scotland in the 5th and 6th centuries, the Celtic Pagans celebrated Yule. Yule was celebrated during the winter solstice to entice the gods to let the sun return. Yule logs would be burned and the ashes used to protect the home. Kissing under mistletoe was to encourage fertility in the coming months, and evergreen trees would be brought inside and decorated to symbolize the lives of those around.
As Catholicism took hold in Scotland these traditions of Yule would be blended in to those of the Catholics and evolve over the centuries to those seen today. However, Christmas was actually banned in Scotland in the 17th Century when Scotland moved from Catholicism to Presbyterianism. It wasn't until 400 years later that the ban was lifted, but even after the lift most Scots celebrated Christmas discreetly. It also wasn't until the 1950s that Christmas was declared an official holiday, meaning most people could take the day off.
Today Christmas in Scotland looks like Christmas in most Christian countries, with family gatherings, the exchanging of presents, feasts and for those so inclined, church services. Those of us at Scottish Fest USA and the USS would like to wish everyone out there a warm winter holiday, and a prosperous new year and Hogmany!