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Customs and Traditions
by Drummer on Foot

It may be interesting, at least to the younger generation, to learn something of the living conditions and customs of the pioneers, as well as the social relations held among them and their families in early years. At first, the dwellings of the pioneers were separated by two or three miles; the farms were only cleared in spots, a footpath through the woods led from one home to another, but they visited on another frequently.

Their only entertainment was the friendly conversation indulged in during these visit. It was nothing for one to visit another at night and travel several miles through the woods for that purpose. The other was then bound to return the visit without fail, as soon as possible.

There was no backbiting of neighbours then neighbours were too few and too precious.  Though not be blood related, they were as brothers all, by the kindred tie of voluntary exile to a land unknown but in name; an unpeopled wilderness to be converted into a prosperous country, now amongst the happiest on the continent, if not on earth.

With continuous labour and a sufficiency of life’s needs, they were contented, they were happy.  There was no craving for wealth, no “almighty dollar” craze, no “get rich quick” schemes, nothing but a good day’s work, a pleasant meeting of near neighbours in the evening and good night’s rest, to resume the same thing over again on the next day.  Their only care was to place their sons on farms of their own, as near to the parental home as possible, and they started them at an early age.  There was yet no thought of any other vocation than farming, no professional or easy life held in view, farming was the mainstay of the place; it is today, and so far as I can venture to predict, it will continue to be the noblest pursuit on earth.  Naturally enough, these good people needed their periods or relaxation from strenuous work.

The grand season for social gatherings and celebrations was Christmas, and it was observed from December 25th until January 6th, which was called Old Christmas.  In each district, every home was to be visited by neighbours on some night during this period, the man of the house, in his turn, being the host, and the good neighbours his guests.  The best in the house was prepared for them, including, of course, “Mac An Toisich”.  Songs, old folk lore, and anecdotes were more on the program than dancing, and at a seasonable time they went to their hones, to continue the good work by visiting the next house the following night. 

The New Year varied the program somewhat.  The last night of the year was called “Opidche ch’oinnie” or “Oidhche Challain”.  Every window in the house was lit with candles till after midnight, likely to lead the New Year in.  On this night every house in the district was visited.  The doors were supposed to lock.  The men in the company carried clubs, “camian”, and made known their presence by vigorously beating the outside walls.  The man inside said, “Gabh do dhuan”, whereupon the leader outside repeated a verse or two of “Duan Callain” – a New Year poem.  It always ended with a request to be admitted to the hospitality of the home, upon which the door was opened, and the company cheerfully treated to refreshments.  They remained but a short time in a house, as every home in the district had to be visited.  It would be considered an insult to omit one.

Another occasion generally fixed for social gathering was a night or two before Lent, during which the same big-hearted hospitality and simple joys were indulged in.  But during the whole year, and particularly during the long winter nights, these good people visited one another regularly.  These neighbourly visits were called “ceilidh”.  A night visit was “ceilidh oidhche”.  On a dark night the visitor carried a firebrand, “aithinnie”, to light his way.  This he swung right and left in the air to keep it blazing.  This was before the introduction of lanterns and it served its purpose admirably.  The conversation by the fireplace was generally Scottish folklore, stories about brave warriors of the Highlands.  They also had weird stories about ghosts, hobgoblins, bocain, and what-not, from the Old Country.  Hair-raising stories about the antics of an unearthly “Bocain” called “Colain gun cheann”, held the young breathless, and often caused an uncomfortable shifting of chairs nearer to the company on the part of their elders tool.  Thus, these pioneers passed their days in toil unremitting, and their nights in harmless amusement.  Would it be to God that the same standard of morality, the same lofty ideals, the same undaunted courage, and tireless perseverance remained with their successors.

Taken from pages 72 – 74.  Cuir is Buain  A genealogical History of Glendale and Neighbouring Communities. Compiled by the Glendale Gaelic & Historical Society.  “Cuir is Buain” means what you sow, you reap.

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