A Highland Wedding in Bygone Days
Wester Ross Customs

THE night preceding the marriage there was held what was popularly known as "feet washing." The bridegroom's bachelor friends met at his house on the pretext of washing his feet for his wedding. A great deal of practical joking was indulged in; for example, soot, blacking etc., were mixed with the water and rubbed on the feet and even on the face of the expectant bridegroom. Very often he made his escape from his friendly tormentors, and was chased by them till he contrived to elude his pursuers, and if he was lucky in concealing himself from them it was considered a good omen of future prosperity. When they failed in finding him he emerged from his concealment and the remaining part of the night was taken up with dancing. On the Monday night after the first proclamation, the young couple secretly paid a visit to the shoemaker for the marriage shoes; the bridegroom paying for both pairs. It was considered unlucky to get married in May; and Tuesdays and Thursdays were the favourite days for tying the nuptial knot, the other days of the week being considered unlucky. Some day in the growth of the moon was always preferred. On the morning of the wedding, the friends of the bridegroom met at his house and those of the bride at. her father's. At each place they were entertained to breakfast, which consisted of milk porridge with brown sugar sprinkled over it, and finished with curds and cream. Then the bridegroom with his party, all young men and bachelors, started, headed by a piper, to the kirk or manse, or residence of the bride to have the ceremony performed. The bride and bridegroom were not to meet or see one another till they met before the minister—the bride always taking the lead. The best young man was expected to provide a bottle of whisky and a glass and to produce them when meeting anyone on the road that he or she might drink to the health and happiness of the bridal pair. It was held unlucky to have the ceremony performed in the bride's father's house; so when not in the kirk or manse it was held in the barn. It was also unlucky to pass a church on their way to get married, but to meet a funeral was most unlucky of all, for that foretold the death of the bride or bridegroom within a twelve month. Green must on no account be worn by the bride, bridegroom, or guests, as it was the Fairies' favourite colour, and they would be highly offended if wedding parties dared to wear it.

During the ceremony great care was taken that no dogs passed between the bridal pair, and particular care was taken to have the bridegroom's left shoe without either buckle or latchet. At the church door he formed a cross with a nail or knife upon the right hand side of the door, and every knot about the bride and bridegroom's dress was carefully loosed. After the ceremony was over the bridegroom and best man retired one way and the bride and the best maid another way, to tie the knots that were loosed and the bridegroom to fix the buckle and latchet which were removed on his entry to the church or where the ceremony was performed. Before returning home, if the ceremony took place in the church, the bridal party walked round the church observing to follow the course of the sun. On the homeward way, the bridegroom now took the lead; the bride came up behind, while the piper played "Leanaidh mi thu "-" I will follow thee."

The marriage feast was spread in the barn. The first dish was generally red cabbage boiled and mashed. The prejudice against the "fairies fatal green" extended to the feast; hence green of all kinds was excluded. The next dish was "fowl-a-bree," that is, fowls cut into small pieces and made into soups with grots, onions, and carrots; then beef and mutton, roasted and boiled, and puddings of various kinds with an abundant supply of whisky. The chief waiter was the bridegroom, and when all the guests were served he was allowed to help himself. After the feast dancing was engaged in, the ball being opened by the "shemit reel," which was performed by his best young man and the bride and her best man and his best maid. After the shemit reel was danced the two young men paid the fiddler and piper, and then the "fiddler's lawin" was collected, that is, every young man at the wedding gave from is. to Is. 6d., thereby entitling him to the honour of a reel with the bride. The young men had the privilege of kissing their partners at the end of the reel.

On the bride's first entrance into her new house she had to be careful to step over the threshold if she would be lucky. A cake of bread and a cheese, both of which had been previously either broken or cut into pieces, were placed on a plate and thrown over the bride's head as she entered the door. If the plate broke it was a good omen as to having a son as heir. Then the links of the crook were put round her head or neck and she was led to the meal girnel and made to take up a handful of meal. All this was done by the mother of the bridegroom if there was such and if not the next of kin. On the first Sabbath after their marriage they went to be kirked, accompanied by a best man and best maid, and they never entered the church till the first singing was half through.

A few marriage superstitions may be mentioned. If an unmarried man happens to be placed between a man and his wife, that promises marriage within the year. A man never goes courting on Friday. Whichever sleeps first on the marriage night will be the first to die. Fire is an omen of marriage, and when sparks flew out of the fire towards young persons, and if they fixed on the clothes it was considered very lucky. Sparks of fire were also a token of a relative or a stranger coming to visit. Contracts are made on Friday.


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