Kilts, Bridescake and Cheese

Ancient and Unusual Scottish Wedding Traditions

While every culture has its traditions and it’s fun to explore them, the Celtic wedding customs are especially appealing to me. Breaking down the term Celtic – it generally refers to the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany.

I have already written about many Celtic traditions, especially for Irish and Scottish weddings, and last year when I took a trip to Edinburgh (highly recommended, by the way) I did some research and wrote a column on it. I’ve shared information about handfasting, bells, the oak branch, the Claddagh ring, good luck horseshoes, Irish music, Irish blessings,and other cool traditions that are still actively used.

But recently, I learned more about some of very unique ancientScottish marriage customs, most of them left in the ash heap of history. I’m going to share some of these almost forgotten traditions, at least as I have learned about them. Why? Because they’re intriguing, and entertaining.

To begin, I found this: in Gaelic it’s called therèiteach, and it is something we see in almost every culture – an agreement between the couple. When it was done in Scotland it would take place a few weeks before the ceremony, at the home of the bride’s father. Now here’s the crazy part we might not imagine doing today: Friends of the bride and groom would be there, and a series of ‘false brides’ would be brought in to be presented to the groom. Hilarity ensued, especially because they always included a married or elderly women.

Another odd custom was to have afriend of the groom ask for the bride’s hand in marriage on his behalf. Here’s the twist for this one: the bride would be referred to, not by name, but as something else. This ‘something else’ often related to the bride’s family’s trade, so, for example, if she was from a farm family, she might be referred to as a lamb. The groom’s friend would promise the groom would take good care of the lamb.  This would all be done in a very good-natured way, apparently. Not meant to dehumanize the woman, I presume, just lighthearted word play.  At least I hope so.

The foot washing tradition is something we see in many different cultures. The ancient Scottish take on this was to have fiends of the bride wash her feet in a tender and symbolic act of cleansing. Treatment of the groom, however, was a little different. His feet were covered in soot and feathers. Soot represented hearth and home and was thought to be lucky. Over time, this tradition evolved to include other substances, such as boot polish, tar, molasses, eggs and flour. Then, it got really out of hand and no longer were just the feet blackened. The groom (and sometimes the bride) would be covered from head to foot in all sorts of messy substances. This is still done sometimes – but probably best not on the wedding day.

Another old custom is what was called the ‘bridescake.’ Today we recognize it as simple the wedding cake. But this cake was made by the bride’s mother and was usually just a scone or shortbread. Here’s the fun part: part of the cake was broken over the bride’s head, signifying, as so many ancient rituals did, fruitfulness or fertility. I would love to do something like this in a wedding, but I don’t think any brides want to be covered in cake before the reception. We could, however, hold up an umbrella.

And finally, the old Scottish ‘cheese prank.’ This involves putting some preferably strong- smelling cheese between towels or fabric and placing in the wedding bed for good luck. Why is sleeping on cheese good luck? I have no idea.

Some of these traditions were done up to the 1920s which is why there is some good documentation. However, I don’t believe most of these still take place, except the ‘blackening’ thing. Maybe we’ll see a revival of some of these customs, who knows?

All cultures provide food and drink to celebrate marriage and in rural Scotland celebrations were held at home, with friends and neighbors preparing for weeks for this wedding feast. It’s good to know that some good things never change, and I’ll drink to that!

 

   

 

 

 

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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