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Scotland and the Scots
Scottish Anniversaries and Holidays


THE Reformation in Scotland abolished all the festivals of the olden time, and left the Scottish people very destitute of holidays or opportunities for general gatherings and merry-makings. Of course the fairs were not altogether abandoned, but they were shorn of much of their former value in the eyes of many when they were no longer occasions for revelry, athletic sports, idle gossip and general hilarity. They were used mainly for bartering and preaching, and although at times the old spirit would break out among the younger folks, and, as so well described in connection with a later era in Scott's ''Old Mortality," a wappinschaw might be arranged at a popular gathering, still the dangerous levity was frowned down by the dour portion of the people, the local magnates and the "heads of families " as the Confession of Faith called them. The same puritanical spirit which condemned many holiday festivities in England had spread into Scotland, but then it was more thoroughgoing, more spontaneously the result of genuine popular sentiment. In Scotland the Reformation was really a reformation. All things were changed and every form of religious observance was made as opposite from that of the Romish Church as it could possibly be. The severest simplicity took the place of the most ornate splendor. The priest, instead of being a potentate, became a minister, a servant, and as a clean sweep was made of the cloisters, images, altars, monks and nuns, so too were the old holidays, once dear to the people, completely ignored and almost obliterated—except as popular landmarks. Even Christmas, the assigned natal day of the Founder of Christianity, was ruthlessly passed by without note or observance, and so was Easter. Even now, although those days are more in vogue than they were formerly, they can hardly be said to have regained their popularity in the land of the Kirk and the Covenant. Easter is a sort of frolicking time when dyed eggs and spring bonnets come into vogue, and Christmas is a period when fraternal and kindly greetings are exchanged between families, friends and acquaintances. Except among Episcopalians, and the class whom Professor Blackie delights to designate as ''West End swells," Christmas has no religious significance in any part of the country.

But amid all the civil and religious changes which mark the history of Scotland, New Year's day has always remained a season of jubilation, of congratulation, and of pleasure seeking. Prior to the Reformation the day bore a religious significance, but on the consummation of that event it became one of purely secular rejoicing. In the Lowlands first footing is the special feature of the day although it seems to a great extent to be dying out. Within the last half century great crowds of revellers used to meet at some central place in each town, such as the Tron Church at Edinburgh. or the Tron Church at Glasgow, and wait patiently until the ''town" clock had finished striking twelve on the night of each 31st of December, Then a glad cheer would arise from the multitude, "a guid new year" would be passed from lip to lip as each one shook hands with his neighbor, and bottles of whiskey would be drawn from numberless pockets and "preed." Then the revellers would separate and start out on their first-footing expeditions. It was this same whiskey element in the rejoicing which led to its falling into desuetude. The old saying that "when drink's in, wit's out " holds true around New Year's day as well as at any time, and many catastrophes occurred, each celebration, which could be traced directly to this cause. In Edinburgh, for instance, about 1858, a young man was crossing the Mound to first-foot some friends when he was attacked by several Irishmen. In the scuffle which ensued one of the Irishmen was killed and the young man was arrested. He was tried for murder, but his character was an excellent one and his plea of self-defence was believed by the jury. He was acquitted, but had to leave the city, practically a ruined man. The trial created a deep sensation in Scotland at the time, and its revelations proved a deathblow to the old-fashioned. kindly meant, but foolish practice of first-footing. From that time it ceased to be at all fashionable in Edinburgh, and, thanks to the steady progress of temperance principles among the people, the more glaring of its objectionable features are rapidly disappearing. There is more drunkeness in Scotland on New Year's day than on any other day in the year, but the extent of the evil is steadily being reduced.

First-footing had a whole multitude of little superstitions which were peculiarly its own. Thus, a person who had a low instep was never desirable as a first-foot. A first-foot who entered a house empty-handed would he deemed very unlucky, and his advent would be the beginning of a year of poverty, hardship and misfortune. Should he enter unshod, he would simply invite death to visit the household during the year, and so be to all intents and purposes a murderer. Even although the first-foot should make his appearance laden with all the good things of the season and his feet shod with the best shoes in the parish, he might still be an undesirable visitor on account of his being personally obnoxious to the fates; an unlucky sort of a fellow in all respects. First-footing was, and is, a matter which should never be entered upon without grave reflection, for the blame of anything in the way of disaster which may happen during the year is always laid to the blame of the first-foot, and many a decent man has had his reputation thus blasted owing to circumstances arising over which he had no control. On the other hand, I have known men who have acquired great local honor from being regarded as "Guid first fits," and to them the opening day of each year was truly a season of refreshing and rejoicing.

In olden times, should a fire have gone out in a household on New Year's clay, it was considered a sign of impending disaster. No one would lend a neighbor a shovelful of lighted coal on that day, and if a man entered a house and desired a light for his pipe, he would be very rudely and peremptorily refused. To give away light or fire rather, on January 1st, was regarded as equivalent to giving away a life, and the person giving was deemed sure to be the victim. This was simply a survival of the old reverence for fire which existed among the people from the earliest times in their history.

In the Highlands, first-footing was also quite a feature of the New Year's celebrations, and most of the superstitions current in the South belonged to the North. The late Rev. Alexander Macgregor, of Inverness, thus writes: "On New Year's eve, they [the Highlanders] surrounded each other's houses carrying dried cow-hides, and beating them with sticks, thrashing the walls with clubs, all the time crying, shouting and repeating hymns. This is supposed to operate as a charm against fairies, demons and spirits of every order. They provide themselves with the flap, or hanging part of the hide on the cow's neck which they called 'caisean-uchd,' and which they singed in the fire and presented to the inmates of the family, one after another, to smell as a charm against all injuries from fairies and spirits. A specimen of the rhymes repeated, with loud chorus, is as follows:

'Great good luck to the house,
Good luck to the family,
Good luck to every rafter of it
And to every worldly thing in it.

'Good luck to horses and cattle,
Good luck to the sheep;
Good luck to everything
And good luck to all your means.

Good luck to the guide wife,
Good luck to the children,
Good luck to every friend,
Good luck and health to all.'

This is certainly about as complete a round of good wishes as one could well draw together. Nothing, in fact, is omitted.

In the South as in the North, New Year's enjoyed a share in the good favor of the poets, although to a much smaller extent than one would suppose. The most popular New Year's song is that beginning:

"A guid New Year to ace an' a'
An' mony may ye see,
And owre a' the years to come
O happy may ye be.
An' may ye iie'em hae cause to mourn
To sigh or shed a tear;
To ace and a' baith great an' sma'-
A happy guid New Year."

While, however, hoping the best for the future, many a sigh may he heard for the year that has gone, with all its sins of omission and commission. The following song written by John Donlap, who was Lord Provost of Glasgow, in 1796, faithfully interprets this feeling

Here's to the year that's aiva'!
Well drink it in strong and in sma';
And here's to ilk bonnie young lassie we loved,
While swift flew the year that's awa.

Here's to the sodger that bled,
And the sailor who bravely did fa';
Their fame is alive, though their spirits have fled
On the wings of the year that's awa'.

Here's to the friends that we can trust
When the storms of adversity blow;
May they live in our song and be nearest our hearts,
Nor depart like the year that's awa."

To celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotia's darling poet, has become one of the duties of Scotsmen all over the world, and the day has been elevated into one of the most noteworthy in the national calendar. In the celebration of this day, the Scot is not selfish; for while he keeps the limits of his nationality pretty closely drawn round his St. Andrew's and Caledonian societies, he invites the world to worship at the shrine of Burns and join with him in paying homage to the memory of that great poet. This invitation is very generally accepted, and nowhere more so than in America, where of all "fremit" lands, Robert Burns is best understood and most highly appreciated.

In Scotland nearly every village or parish has its Burns club, and in the larger towns there are often three or four. All these hold more or less public meetings on the anniversary of the natal day. "Furth of Scotland," wherever a dozen or two of its natives can be found located, they generally have a club organized under the name of Burns, or at all events, they observe his ''day" with rejoicings. In the United States and Canada, every January, there are some 200 meetings in honor of the poet. These gatherings are of all descriptions, dinners, suppers, concerts, lectures and even balls, though by what stretch of imagination a ball can be considered as calculated to glorify the memory of a poet, I never could well understand. These festivals are attended by people of all classes from millionaires, bankers, merchants, traders, farmers, clerks, ministers, teachers, professors, to mechanics and hard-handed sons of toil in general. Some of the speeches are eloquent and equal to the occasion, others are homelier in their manner and worth, but equally sincere in their good intentions of helping along the fame of Burns in their part of "this vale of tears." They are all equally exuberant, too, in their enthusiasm for the memory of the sweet singer who sung in undying tones the grand refrain of the brotherhood of man, and whose highest mission was to teach the inherent dignity and worth of honest toil. The people listen with admiration to the speeches, and cheer to the echo every allusion to the name of the poet or the slightest tribute to his genius.

And that is all. The multitudinous quantity of speech-making, singing, enthusiasm, whiskey-drinking, good fellowship and so forth which occupied so many hours, and which joined the world together on the night before, are all dissipated into nothingness with the rising of the sun, and the fame of Burns, the memory of Burns, the teaching of Burns have not been in reality helped in any degree by the enthusiasm and vaporing which have been expended on the anniversary. The usual shrewdness of the Scot in this investment is completely at fault.

For it is a mistake, a grievous mistake, this system of useless celebration, and tends, if Burns' life and teaching be worth anything at all, to render that worth useless. What is the good of men meeting once a year simply to tell each other that Burns was a great man; that he wrote a number of poems which the world will not willingly let die; that he elevated labor, and wrote stirring words in favor of freedom; and that his life was in itself one of the most interesting and solemn poems of which the world has ken? Men go on repeating these things year after year with infinite zest, and with all the unanimity of parrots, thoroughly convinced that thereby they are doing a wonderful amount of good to the fame of Burns and the glory of their motherland. How much better would it be were these meetings made the sources from which bursaries could be raised to enable the sons of Scottish peasants to pass through the universities, or from which means would be derived to promote an increase of agricultural education among the class of small tenant farmers from which Burns sprung! Could they not spread a thorough understanding of the political bearings of Burns' teachings among the people, bringing home to them a knowledge of the power they possess, of their inherent rights and of the wrongs which still harass and annoy them? Could not a fund be raised to assuage the sorrows of old and impoverished authors, to assist their widows and families, and to remove the reproach, as common and as truthful now as at any time in the world's history, that poverty and poetry always go together? Could not something be done, no matter how little, to hurry on that glorious time when the brotherhood of man will be a reality instead of a dream, and when Burns' song of "A man's a man a' that " will be the accepted anthem of all the world? Surely in these and a score of other ways which might be mentioned the hero-worship of Burns could be made something real, something practical, and in every way worthy of his memory and of the heritage which he bequeathed to all posterity. Surely something of this sort would be more fitting, more manly, more characteristic of his countrymen, than spending a night each year in listening to empty platitudes, threadbare assertions, and neatly turned phrases, eating fashionable dinners or democratic suppers, or in drinking large quantities of Scotch whiskey, the very draught which did so much to embitter the life of the poet and which hurried him midst poverty and sorrow to an untimely grave.

Beltane, or, as it might be called, Mayday, has fallen into neglect. in some places the country lads and lassies, and even the town's lads and lassies, go out early on morning and lave their hands and faces in May dew, but the custom is meaningless now and little better than a sort of idle diversion. Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday are now merely names in Scotland. The latter, indeed, would be forgotten altogether were it not that history records it as being the day when the "Douglas Larder" was formed. As will be remembered by those who have read the. story of the struggle for independence in Scotland: Sir James Douglas, the greatest of all his race, on Palm Sunday, 1306-7, recaptured by stratagem from the English his ancestral castle of Douglas. Sir James stripped the place of its arms and valuables. Then he threw into a huge heap all the provisions which were found in the stores, and staved all the casks containing wine and threw them on the pile. He next ordered all his prisoners to be killed and their bodies flung on top of the strange cairn. He then set fire to the whole and consumed it as well as the castle itself. A savage performance truly, but it harmonized well with the spirit of the times, and the peasants of Douglasdale called it, in grim humor, the "Dguglas Larder."

One would think that the 24th of June, the anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, would be a gala-day among the Scotch; but, strange to say, it is hardly ever recognized by any special observance. Of course this is due in a great measure to the union which so happily exists between England and Scotland, and to the lack of any burning sentiment of jealousy between them; yet, even in spite of all this, it seems a slight on the memory of those who fought and fell on that day that the glory of their achievements should be ignored or forgotten. But for Bannockburn the union of Scotland and England would have been effected on a very different basis from that on which it was afterwards settled. The English are not so very thin-skinned as to be likely to feel offended or put out at any celebration which might be made to mark the day when the independence of Scotland was finally and emphatically won. Those of them who are located in the United States preserve their equanimity in the face of the Fourth of July demonstrations very easily, and the celebration of Evacuation Day in New York or the battle of Bunker Hill in Boston never causes them a pang. The 24th of June should be a marked day in Scotland, for the victory which it added to its history on that date in 1314 made everything possible which she has acquired since. Let one calmly sit down and imagine that the decision of Bannockburn had been reversed and that Bruce's army had been crushed and dispersed, Stirling relieved, and the whole country once more firmly under the heel of English conquerors. Then let him work out the problem of what the history of the country would have been as a mere province —a conquered and a despised province—of England. A study of this sort will make the importance of Bannockburn come home to a student more forcibly than any other way I can think of. Even England, in the light of history between then and now, has reason to be glad that her king and his soldiers were sent hurrying pell-mell across the Border instead of winning an empty, and to them barren, victory.

Hallowe'en, the 31st of October, is so named as being the eve of the Feast of All Hallows, which is on the following day, November 1st. Hallowe'en used to he very commonly observed all over Scotland, and merry parties were wont to convene under its happy auspices; but it is now falling into neglect. In fact the day would very likely have been long ago as much a relic of the past as Beltane itself were it not for the fact that Burns has immortalized its observance, its ceremonies, its spells, its apple-doukins, its superstitions and its fun in one of the best of his descriptive poems. The Picture of Hallowe'en as he gives it is perfect, and his lines have been the model or the source from which all descriptions of the festival have since been drawn. it is therefore needless to repeat the story here. Suffice it to say that Hallowe'en is a festival which is based upon superstition, and which has been the means of keeping these superstitions alive even to our own day. The old rhyme fitly describes its power:

This is the nicht o' Hallowe'en:
A' the witches to be seen,
Some o' them black, some o' them green,
Some o' them like a turkey bean."

The denizens of the spiritual world were on that night supposed to be in full possession of the country, and were permitted to work their most wonderful spells or play their most curious cantraps. The green-folk gathered on the hillside or in the glen, or by the river-bank as it flowed through the meadow; the kirkyards and ruins were peopled with ghosts; the kelpies laughed and shrieked to their hearts' content, and the witches sailed hither and thither through the air in pursuit of their uncanny joys, or brought their foul machinations against ordinary folk to a culmination. The spiritual world then made itself known to the mortal, and the latter was often permitted to "keek" into the future and read the riddle of life. No wonder that among the simple-minded, earnest, thoughtful peasantry of the olden days Hallowe'en was a time which inspired awe as well as afforded pleasure. In these later times the supernatural influence has been in a great measure dissipated, and with it has faded away the very reason for the observance of the evening, its social opportunities and a sentimental regard for auld lang syne continue to give it a lingering lease of life, but, as I have observed, if Burns's poem had not been written that lease would have ended fully half a century ago. In the United States and Canada, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, many of the Scottish societies give a concert or some other entertainment on Hallowe'en. Sometimes at these festivals apples and tubs of water are provided for the children and the younger folks "doukin," but, except in this respect, these merry-meetings might just as fittingly be held on any other night in the year.

Saint Andrew's Day, the 30th of November in each year, is the great rallying day of Scotsmen abroad. Many of them rejoice on the anniversary of the birthday of Burns, and a number indulge in unusual merriment on Halloween, but to the enthusiastic Scot the day of his Patron Saint means something far more important than even these, for St. Andrew is simply another name for Scotland. On that day he can indulge in exultant talk without let or hindrance ; he can extoll the beauties of his native land or magnify its virtues. He can enumerate its great men, not forgetting to give special prominence to those belonging to his "ain pairish," and proclaim the charm of its poets. He can describe in glowing accents its wonderful history, and, drawing around him the mantle of prophecy, can predict for its future a degree of usefulness and splendor which will throw every other nation into the shade. To this no one will attempt to object. By universal consent the day has been given over to Scotsmen abroad as much as the 17th of March has been surrendered to the Irish to enable them to glorify the memory of a grand Scottish missionary of the olden time—St. Patrick.

It has often been asked why St. Andrew should have been adopted as the Patron Saint of Scotland, and probably no satisfactory answer will ever be returned. The early legends regarding the founding of the Fife town bearing his name, of course, if true, would be sufficient. But who can say that they are anything but old-world babblings? At the same time it must be confessed that there probably existed in the earlier ages some reason for this adoption. Very likely it may have been that some missionaries landed in Fife on this saint's day in the calendar, and named their place of abode after him. Thus the name would be identified with all their movements, and as their cause spread so would the veneration for the saint to whose titulary care their place of refuge was dedicated. The stories about the relics of the saint, and so forth, are merely idle legends, invented in the Scottish monasteries during a time when the priesthood was in a state of moral decadence. Such stories are very abundant concerning the remains of saints in general.

But there can be no doubt that St. Andrew is a most fitting patron for Scotland. There is one thing more than all else which is characteristic of the history of the Scottish people, and that is their intense patriotism. This was also characteristic of the saint. The first glimpse we get of him in the Gospels shows him in attendance on the preachings of John the Baptist in the wilderness. Judea had for a long time been groaning under a most cruel and exacting despotism, and the youth of the period indulged in dreams of the promised era when the country would once more be free. From what we can learn it would seem that the Baptist's early preaching was more national than religious. He taught that a prince was about to come who would restore the ancient liberties of the Jews, and it was not until after he had baptized Christ that he appeared to understand the real nature of the change which had begun with that event. St. Andrew and his brother Peter had listened to these patriotic utterances of the Baptist for many days, and it was to this patriotism that they owed directly their introduction to the Messiah. Therefore, if we regard St. Andrew as a patriot, intense, enthusiastic and full of zeal, we can see how thoroughly he is representative of the leading feature in Scottish nationality, or of any nation which is imbued with a sentiment of pure patriotism.

In this also may be found a sufficient answer to the question— Why do the Scotch people in Scotland not observe St. Andrew's Day? There is no need for observing any such landmark, for Scottish patriotism is still active and diligent, and is ever at work in countless ways. Let a single Scotch privilege be assailed and a thousand voices are heard in protest. Let any slur be cast upon the honor or the rights of the country, and meetings will be held in all the villages and towns until the attempted wrong-doing be abandoned. Every now and again a cry is raised regarding some such attempt, showing how closely the Scottish patriots continue to watch over their hard-won rights. In various other ways the flame of patriotism is daily kept alive and glowing, and, therefore, there is no necessity for singling out any particular day for furthering on the work, nor any need of reviving memories of what is ever present and in operation. There are only a very few St. Andrew's Societies in Scotland. The principal one is that of Glasgow. Its sole purpose is patriotic, and it has but little to do beyond ferreting out petty instances of the ignoring of Scotland in matters which appertain to the government of Great Britain.

But abroad, wherever a few Scots can gather, it is the day of all the year. For the preceding twelve months they may have been true Englishmen, good American citizens, loyal Canadians, devoted Australians, benign New-Zealanders, or kept themselves remarkably quiet among the French, German, Russian, Italian, or other foreigners, in whose midst they may have taken up their abode. But on the 30th of each November they proclaim themselves, and, strange to say, the other nationalities rejoice with them, and listen with complacency to their legends of their country's greatness and worth. When the Scot is abroad, however, a curious change takes place in the disposition of St. Andrew, and instead of being a figure-head for sentiment and patriotism he becomes a very practical personage with charty for his great purpose. All over the United States and Canada there are scattered numerous St. Andrew's Societies, whose chief object is to relieve the distress among those unfortunate Scots who, from some cause or other, have fallen by the wayside in the battle of life. These societies, year after year, do a vast amount of good and bring out the kindliest feelings of the Scottish nature, which never is so patriotic or so brotherly as when it is far away from the heather hills. One or two of these societies possess considerable wealth, and distribute a wonderful amount of charity each successive year. Indeed, so much has the charitable feature supplemented the patriotic idea in these societies that the old motto of the saint has been abandoned, and in its place "Relieve the Distressed" has been substituted.

On St. Andrew's Day these societies generally have a meeting of some sort—a banquet, ball, concert, or other festival—at which the work of the year is talked over and plans laid for the future, and, where necessary, increased contributions asked from "Scots wha hae." Long may these institutions flourish and carry on their blessed work! By so doing the members are perhaps building better than they know, for they are truly aiding in bringing to pass that glorious time when the brotherhood of man will be acknowledged over all the earth. Thus the good work carried on by the saint during his lifetime is still continued, although the ends which he had in view are being reached through a different channel than that in which he labored. He preached the gospel of love through Christ. His modern followers show the example of the Christian life through charity, which is simply one of the forms of love. Thus by such thoughtful kindness these St. Andrew's Societies are inspiring men with tenderer feelings towards each other, making the rich lighten the burdens of the poor, and the lightsome of heart turn aside to uplift the sorrowing and the fallen.

This completes the Scottish calendar. In it, if fully observed, the Scot has opportunities for demonstrating his patriotism, his charity, his love for his native land and his regard for the things that used to horrify and amuse his forefathers away back in the dim past. If he only add his own birthday to the list and append it to this list of celebrations, he will have as many days in the year as he could well wish to extoll himself and magnify the greatness of the land of his birth.


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