Scottish weddings have evolved and adapted over the centuries to suit changing times and customs.
However, many Scottish wedding traditions remain today, and they encompass more than simply wearing a kilt!
We’ll be taking you back through the ages to uncover the most famous (and lesser known) Scottish wedding traditions, so you can incorporate them into your big day!
BEFORE THE CEREMONY:
To help get your wedding off to a truly Scottish start, engage in some of these classic traditions.
This is a brooch, usually made of silver, engraved with two intertwined hearts topped with a crown to represent Mary Queen of Scots.
The luckenbooth is traditionally given by the groom to his fiancée before the wedding as a token of his love.
The luckenbooth should also be pinned onto the blanket of a couple's first born child to bring good luck to the family.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This unusual tradition was common in the areas of Fife, Dundee and Angus, where the bride would sit on a stool on the day of the wedding, while an older, happily-married woman would wash and dry her feet.
Sometimes, the feet-washer would drop a ring into the water and the first single lady at the wedding to find it would be married next.
In Fife, this feet-washing tradition was taken to new levels for bridegrooms. His legs would customarily be smeared with grease, ash and soot as he sat in a tub of bath water!
CREELING THE BRIDEGROOM
Popular until the start of the 19th century, this unique historical tradition used to take place the day before the wedding. It consisted of the groom carrying a large basket or creel filled with stones from one side of the village to another.
This challenging tradition continued until the groom’s fiancée ran out and give him a kiss. It was only at this moment that his friends would permit him to stop his circuit of the village.
The hen and stag parties are over and the nerves are kicking in, this must mean the wedding ceremony is here!
Let’s take a look at some Scottish ceremonial traditions.
At the Kirk Doors
One of the oldest Scottish wedding traditions, it is customary for the bride and groom to exchange vows outside the front entrance to the kirk (the word for church in Scotland) with the guests standing by.
The bride and groom then enter the church itself for the Nuptial Communion and blessing of the food.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Blessing the Wedding Food
After exchanging vows at the kirk doors, during the Communion the minister would bless the food bought by the guests for the celebration.
Guests bringing food for the Ceilidh evolved among the wedding day customs from the Penny Wedding.
Bride to the Groom's Left
It sounds strange today, but a Scottish bride used to be viewed as a ‘warrior’s prize’. In the bloodthirsty, patriarchal societies of old, Scottish grooms had to hold their ‘captured bride’ with their left hand, so that they could fend off her family and other foes.
We’re glad the logic behind this archaic tradition is redundant today!
To initiate a Celtic wedding ceremony, the bride and groom traditionally draw a circle around themselves, symbolizing their unity with God. As they draw the circle, they repeat the words of the following prayer, know as the caim:
The Mighty Three, my protection be,
You are around my life, my love, my home.
Encircle me. O sacred three, the Mighty
Source: Irina Patrascu
The word confetti originates from Italy, where it describes the sugared almonds traditionally served at weddings. In the UK, however, confetti comprises colourful paper shapes that are thrown at the bride and groom as part of the wedding ceremony.
People used to hurl rice at the bride and groom, but it was replaced because it was prone to cause injury. These days, Scottish wedding confetti is somewhat unique, with Tartan plaid and shamrock shapes a common sight.
A Dorothy bag, or Dolly bag, carried by the bridesmaids contains the confetti to be thrown.
The Groom's Siller
In a pledge to ‘provide and protect’, Scottish grooms used to be expected to bring ‘siller’—silver coins—to the ceremony.
The groom gave the priest or minister 13 silver coins, called ‘arrhae’. At one point in the ceremony, the priest dropped the coins into the groom's hands. Then, the groom dropped them into the bride’s hands. Next, she dropped them back into his hands. The groom then dropped the coins into a plate, held by the ministerial assistant.
The sound of the coins dropping was intended to symbolise the groom’s promise to provide for his wife. The bride returning the coins signified her pledge that they would share their wealth, and manage, save and invest their money wisely.
Arrhae also means earnest. The word is Phoenician in origin and was applied in Roman law to denote anything gave bind to a bargain.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Oathing Stone
An oath given by a stone or water was said to make the wedding ceremony more binding. Over time, this tradition evolved into the bride and groom placing their hands together on a stone as they spoke their vows.
In some areas of Scotland, the couple would carve their names on a tree or a stone. Some of these bridal stones still exist across Scotland today.
Today, people find small stones and decorate them by etching the bride’s and groom’s names or initials or the date of their wedding.
Source: Max Pixel
Pledging to Provide and Protect
The groom used to give his bride a sheaf of wheat, signifying his pledge to provide for their home. The bride gave the groom a piece of woven cloth, symbolizing her pledge to provide for their home.
The groom used to give a dagger or dirk, showing his pledge to defend their home. The bride gave a bible; this also symbolized her defence of the home.
These pledges of the wedding ceremony are still observed by some Scots today.
The quaich, a two-handled ‘loving cup’ for the wedding feast, was the vessel from which the couple took their first Holy Communion together. The quaich was also used for their first toast together as a married couple.
Symbolic of the couple’s shared lives, this ancient vessel was used by two families or clans to celebrate a bond, with each leader partaking in the offered drink.
Many years ago, the quaich was made from wood. By the 17th century, silver mountings or metal quaichs were used.
Today, the quaich is either silver or pewter, with an overlay of wood. Before and after the ceremony, the quaich sits on a plinth.
Whiskey or brandy is traditionally served from the quaich.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ringing of the Bells
To ring the church bells at the end of the ceremony was (and still is) to joyously declare the marriage. Today, some couples provide small bells for their guests to ring while they walk down the aisle after the ceremony.
The Unity Candle
In Scottish history, the unity candle ceremony symbolized two clans joining together. There used to be three candles: two tapers placed on each side of a central candle, representing the two families. The larger, central candle represented the new family being formed by the marriage.
As part of the traditional Scottish wedding ceremony, the wedding candles were often adorned with ribbons, flowers, Celtic knots, Claddagh, thistles, or Luckenbooths.
GOOD LUCK CHARMS
For good luck, a bride is supposed to have something borrowed, something blue, something old and something new on her big day.
Scottish traditions also offer some interesting charms for luck that are still used to this day…
- In the Scottish borders, people believed that hiding a sprig of white heather subtly within the bride’s bouquet would bring good luck and happiness to the marriage.
- In Aberdeenshire and Angus, people also believed that placing a sixpence in the bride’s shoes on the day of her wedding would bring good luck.
Source: Catherine Singleton
The Wedding Walk
The traditional wedding walk was a formal march by the wedding party to the church.
It would historically have been led by a fiddler, followed by the bridegroom who was accompanied by the maid of honour. The bride would follow behind in the company of the best man.
When the bride leaves her house for the beginning of the wedding walk, legend states that she should exit her house with her right foot forward. If she did not, then bad luck would reign.
It was also seen as bad luck if the procession met a pig or a funeral party on their journey. If they did, the entire procession would have to start all over again from the beginning. Furthermore, it was regarded as bad luck if the march did not pass through flowing water two times.
Once the happy couple had made their vows and the ceremony was over, the bride and groom would lead the march to the reception, with the maid of honour and best man following behind.
The Wedding Rings
Wedding rings date back to Roman times, where they believed that the fourth finger of the left hand was connected to the vena amoris or vein of love.
Ancient Scottish custom stated that the bride should have two rings — one for everyday wear and another dress ring, which was traditionally more expensive.
PINNING THE TARTAN
Once the bride and groom are officially declared husband and wife, pinning the tartan takes place. Importantly, this symbolises the acceptance of each spouse into the other person’s family.
Here, a rosette or crest of the accepting family is fastened to the other spouse’s tartan by a member of the accepting family. For example, a member of the groom’s family would fasten their crest to the bride’s tartan or vice versa, and this means the person symbolically becomes a part of their family.
PRESENTATION OF THE SWORD
An unusual tradition, this was popular during ancient times and is similar to the pinning of the tartan.
The groom would present his bride with his family’s sword during the ceremony and the sword would then be passed down to the couple’s first son. Alternatively, the bride’s family would present the groom with their family sword, and both these rituals symbolise acceptance into the family and the obligation of the groom to protect his wife.
Bagpipes have been played at Scottish weddings for centuries, and the tradition continues to this day.
The Piper stands at the door of the church playing as the guests arrive. He also plays as the newlyweds leave the ceremony and make their way to their car.
Bagpipes are traditionally played as the couple make their way to the top table at the reception, as well as when they cut their wedding cake.
Source: Public Domain Archive
THE SCOTTISH WEDDING RECEPTION:
Now you’re officially husband and wife!
Following a traditional Scottish ceremony, it’s only appropriate to celebrate in true Scottish style. Let’s have a peek at some of the main features that you would find in a traditional Scottish reception.
THE SCOTTISH WEDDING CAKE
In Scotland, wedding cakes tend to follow tradition. This means that truly Scottish wedding cakes feature two tiers and are most commonly a brandy-flavoured fruit cake.
According to legend, this cake should be baked at the time of the couple’s engagement. It also means that the flavours seep into each other and become especially tasty in time for the wedding.
However, only the bottom layer of the cake is supposed to be enjoyed at the wedding. The upper tier should be saved and only eaten as a celebration of the couple’s first child.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A reception wouldn't be complete without lots of dancing to liven up the celebrations!
- The Traditional Grand March
Nothing in wedding history is more famous than the first dance.
In Scotland, this takes the name of the Traditional Grand March. Here the newlyweds begin a solo march to bagpipes or a live band. They are then accompanied on the floor by the best man and maid of honour, soon to be followed by the in-laws, and then the rest of the guests.
After this symbolic dance, traditional Scottish dancing takes centre stage.
- The Lang Reel
In traditional fishing communities in the North East of Scotland, the wedding party, accompanied by villagers, begin by dancing at the harbour. This dancing fiesta then processes through the village, with each couple leaving as they pass their house.
The bride and groom are then left to share a romantic last dance together.
Source: Erik Fitzpatrick
Performance Group : The Red Thistle Dancers
THE WEDDING SCRAMBLE
After the reception and when the bride and groom step into their wedding car to start their new life together, her father throws a handful of coins into the air for the children to collect. This ritual is seen to bring strong financial fortune to the couple.
Alternatively, it is also traditional for a toddler to hand the bride a horseshoe as she leaves the church with her new husband. This is to signify good luck in the marriage.
GIFTING CLOCKS AND TEA SETS
Just as there are traditional events and proceedings, it wouldn’t be a truly Scottish wedding if you didn’t give/receive traditional Scottish gifts.
In the North East, clocks are traditionally given to the newlyweds by the best man. On a similar note, the maid of honour would tend to give a tea set to the happy couple.
ELOPING TO GRETNA GREEN
If you really want to add a sense of adventure to your ceremony, why not head off to Gretna Green, which has a history of elopements dating back centuries.
In 1754, Lord Hardwicke passed the Marriage Act declaring that marriages had to be held within a church and both the groom and the bride needed to be over the age of 21.
However, as Scotland had its own legal system, this British law was broadly ignored and soon English couples were crossing the border to tie the knot.
Nowadays, Gretna Green is the second most visited site in all of Scotland, second only to Edinburgh Castle.
If you are looking to plan a wedding in Gretna Green, the Gretna Green wedding team assist you with planning your perfect day, as well as providing wedding packages and a helpful calculator, to help you determine your budget and spends.
And there you have it, our complete guide to Scottish wedding traditions. We hope that we have inspired you to take your Scottish wedding that one step further.