The origins of Douglas.

The earliest evidence of human habitation in Scotland is believed to be about 14 000 years ago during what is known as the Mesolithic Period. It was a time when what we know today as the British Isles were a part of the European mainland, this made it easier for prehistoric man to roam across lands in search of new hunting grounds.

Over the millennia these roving bands of people established tribal lands, developed cultures and languages. They built structures and learned to farm the land.

Gradually tribal identity grew into what we know today at the Pics, the Scotti, Celts and Gaels. Kingdoms were created along with their feudal system of nobility and class structure. In Scotland the tribe became a clan and the people who lived in clan lands owed fealty to the Clan Chief. The Chief in turn paid fealty to the Monarch.

Scotland became the scene of many battles, either between clans or invading hordes. Through this came conquest, migration and assimilation. Ancient cultures disappeared, new cultures and languages flourished from the old.  But the mainstay language is Gaelic. An ancient language whose origins are reasonably believed in the Highlands and Ireland.

To everyone who is familiar with our clan history, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when did the family name ‘Douglas’ originate. Although the ‘where’ is comfortably beyond dispute, which will be explained later in this article.

It’s written in the Douglas Archives; The origins of the Douglas family are lost in the mists of time.’ That said the only reference material that can be comfortably relied upon in accuracy is the book The History of the House and Race of Douglas and AngusPublished in 1748, this fourth edition book explains in detail the origins and notable figures, yet again most of the claims stated are questionable in the absence of hard evidence.

According to Douglas Archives, the earliest known recording of the Douglas name was of a mythical battle in 767 where a man known as ‘Sholto du glasse’,  whom was instrumental in the defeat of an enemy to a legendary Scottish King, Solvathius.

David MacRitchie (1851 – 1925), a Scottish folklorist and antiquarian published a series of theories in his 1884 book titled Ancient And Modern Britons. In it he claims many Briton families could trace their ancestry to early Moors (North African in origin) who roved and eventually settled in the British Isles.


Of these Moors he alleged is Sholto Douglas. He writes:

The king being anxious to see the man who had done him such signal service, he was pointed out to him by his colour, or complexion in Gaelic language -sholto-du-glash-” behold the black or swarthy coloured man” from which he obtained the name Sholto the Douglas.

Sadly though, this tale is a product of myth and legend. No evidence supports this story and as such, the legend of the progenitor of the Douglas family name can only be referred to as ‘pseudo-history’. Indeed much of what has been claimed by MacRitchie can be discredited.

I draw the conclusion that it is likely that this ‘Sholto Douglas’, if he existed, was not a Moor but rather the description provided by David MacRitchie was a product of mistranslated text and verbal accounts handed down over the centuries. I demonstrate this mistranslated account from two separate sources, here with David MacRitchie’s version and through Douglas Archives where the description reads “Sholto du glash’ – behold that swarthy man.” The latter appears to be the most commonly used quote through a number of sources thereafter.

I’m basing my conclusion on two reasons; firstly the actual meaning of the word ‘Douglas’ and secondly how the use of surnames actually came to be.

Firstly, let’s examine the word ‘Douglas’.

Douglas in modern translation is actually two ancient words that have merged together to create a name. ‘Douglas’ originates in Scottish Gaelic; ‘dubh‘ means ‘Black’ or ‘Dark’ and ‘ghlas’ meaning ‘stream’ or ‘river’.

There is only one body of water or a river or stream in Scotland that bares the old name ‘dubh ghlas’ and that is ‘Douglas Water’ – Scottish Gaelic today names it  ‘Dùghlas’.

Dùghlas (Douglas Water) is a river, a tributary of the River Clyde, that flows entirely through South Lanarkshire.

Located on the banks of Dùghlas are the ancient villages of ‘Douglas‘ and nearby ‘Douglas Water‘; both of these villages and their associated river within a valley known as ‘Douglasdale’, is widely accepted from every source on this subject, that the area around Douglas Water is the area that the family name and Clan Douglas was born.

Secondly, to take an educated guess at the origins of our name one has to examine the early history of Scottish names. A practice not too dissimilar to elsewhere, however complex nonetheless.

The use of ‘fixed’ or ‘surnames’ is relatively new in human history. Surnames only started to appear in Scottish history from the 10th century and still wasn’t used with any consistency until the 16th century.

Prior to this and in some cases right up until the early 19th century in some parts of Scotland people were simply given a single name (or a given name). The use of a ‘byname’ a ‘fixed’ name added to a ‘given’ name at birth was dependent on territory or location, occupation or relational (including the fathers name to ones own given name – ie: Caitlin of Douglas).

Originally fixed names where used along with the words like ‘of the’ or simply ‘of’. So a person could identify themselves as, in my instance, ‘Andrew of Douglas’; or more traditionally ‘Anndra de Dùghlas’. (‘de’ in Scottish Gaelic means ‘of’ in English – a word within a name used again in Douglas history repeatedly).

Given the meaning of the name ‘dubh ghlas’ is derived from a physical location it is reasonable to assume that at some point between the 7th and 11th centuries when fixed names started to be used, a family took the name of the river that flowed through their land.
Douglas Water today.

So if Sholto Douglas did indeed exist in the 7th century then it’s fair to assume that the Douglas family origins can be traced back to this location some 1300 years ago.

In any event it is impossible to conclude that this man was either a Moor or indeed a candidate for the title of progenitor to the Douglas family name. Nowhere in any of the translations of this myth is the word ‘Dubh’ used for a start and the only word that has a resemblance of consistency is ‘glasse’ or ‘glash’ which could be loosely translated as ‘river’. But all that said in no description provided from the sources here resemble the Scottish Gaelic word ‘Douglas’.

The myth goes on to explain that as a reward for Sholto’s service to the King he was rewarded lands around present-day Dùghlas. We can also reasonably know that the family that did take on the Douglas name could only do so if they were upper-levels of society (meaning, noblemen and titled families). This is because these were the people who owned the land, or territory, and were often known or recognised accordingly. Given the information shared here about the meaning and origin of Scottish names one can assume that if the story is true then Sholto adopted ‘Dùghlas’ to his name – because he owned the location. The name is territorial in origin.

As the clan system evolved from the tribal, many people who lived within the clan lands who were not related to the chief took the chief’s surname as their own to either show solidarity, loyalty or to obtain basic protection or for much needed sustenance.

Most of the followers of the clan were tenants, who supplied labour to the clan leaders. Contrary to popular belief, the ordinary clansmen rarely had any blood tie of kinship with the clan chiefs, but they took the chief’s surname as their own when they didn’t possess one of their own and as surnames came into common use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries so too did the need for shared identity and descent.

By the eighteenth century the myth had arisen that the whole clan was descended from one ancestor, with the Gaelic word “clann” meaning “children” or “offspring”.

The Flemish connection

It’s probable, indeed proven, that the Douglas has connections with Flemish settlers. It’s written in the Douglas Archives; ‘Perhaps, at the time when surnames were first used, a family took the name of the river that flows though what became known as Douglasdale, possibly descendants of Flemish settlers’.

The St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research explains in detail about the history of Flemish migration to Scotland which provides an enlightening insight into post Roman-era migration.

Between the 11th to 17th centuries Scotland a large number of people migrated to Scotland from Flanders (located in present-day northern France and Belgium). The reason for this migration was mainly two-fold; which were the need for merchants and skilled tradesmen in Scotland.


The much revered St Margaret of Scotland (1045 – 1093) was the first recorded Monarch to actively encourage foreign migration to Scotland so as to boost the economy and stimulate trade (granted, I used artistic license to translate this passage into modern terms).

However the influence of Flemish migrants didn’t just settle with trade and goods. After the Norman conquest of 1066 many Flemish aristocrats were invited to settle in their host lands and were rewarded for military service through grants of lands and titles. The Flemings who settled in Scotland, in areas such as Moray and Lanarkshire, were without ties to the local populations and were intended to bring those areas further under the control of the kings of Scots.

The creators of scotweb assert the following:    ‘Two of the greatest of the Flemish families to immigrate to Scotland were Murray and Douglas. The founder of Murray was a Fleming named Freskin, who was granted land in West Lothian and Moray by David I of Scotland. Although they were first recorded in the 1170s, the Douglas family names consisted of Arkenbald and Freskin, and were undoubtedly related to the Murrays, and to be of Flemish origin. Though the Flemish origin of the Douglases is not undisputed, it is often claimed that he was descended from a Flemish knight who was granted lands on the Douglas Water by the Abbot of Kelso, who held the barony and lordship of Holydean. However this is disputed, it has been claimed that the lands which were granted to this knight were not the lands which the Douglas family came from.

I have a lot of difficulty in accepting that the origins of the Douglas family name began from a Flemish Knight. Although it is feasible that a Flemish aristocrat was rewarded the lands about Douglasdale for his service to King David I, it is highly unlikely that this Knight took his name to his newly gifted lands. But rather, adopted the name to his own.

I state a number of reasons for this conclusion; namely:

  • We’ve established beyond reasonable doubt of the indigenous origins of the name ‘Douglas’;
  • It is possible that the progenitor to the family name ‘Douglas’ could be a chap by the name of ‘Sholto’; and lastly
  • I believe that the mysterious Knight who was granted the lands about Douglasdale may have adopted or changed his name to ‘Douglas’ in order to appease the locals and escape the persecution that was experienced in England.

The persecution I’m referring to occurred when the Flemish were expelled from England in 1154 by Henry II. A Knight of Flemish origin known as ‘William de Douglas’ was recorded as owning the castle and lands of Douglas Water in 1161. He possibly may have come into possession some years prior to this record. Aristocratic Flemings were granted lands and titles, most notably in Upper Clydesdale and Moray, in order to maintain the power of the Scottish king in those areas.

Considering the word ‘de’ is affixed to William’s surname suggests (as previously explained) that William ‘of’ Douglas adopted the Douglas name when the lands and titles were gifted to him.

This name adoption may be as a result of appeasement to the local inhabitants who may have held resentment that a foreigner is at the head of the House of Douglas; a name that has at least been in existence hundreds of years before William de Douglas set foot on Scottish soil.

We can conclude beyond any reasonable doubt that the origins of the Douglas name comes from a small valley in present-day South Lanarkshire. This is our ancestral homeland, a place that all of us who are associated with the Douglas name has a connection to.

This is a place that at some stage in our family history, our ancestors lived, worked, played, fought and loved. A place we should all consider to be a pilgrimage at some time in our lives to visit the villages and fields of Dùghlas.

Yours aye



Authors note:

The residents of Douglas have created what’s known as Douglas REAL group and a facebook page called Douglasdale Real Group

The group and its website have been set up as a focal point for discussion of aims, ideas and opportunities to enable the progression of recreation, environment, access and leisure facilities in the Douglas Valley.

The group welcomes comments, help and ideas on any projects, how improve their valley and evolve their website.

If you think you can help in any way possible. I’m sure they would be delighted to hear from you.

Main Street, Douglas.

An open letter from the Clan Douglas Association of Australia.

cdaaDear readers.

It’s with sadness to inform you that the Clan Douglas Association of Australia will soon close. Right now it is in ‘wind down’ stage with a view to permanent closure in the new year.

It was at this news that I was compelled along with Mrs Anne Bruest to take up the baton and move forward with the creation of the Clan Douglas Society.

The Clan Douglas Association of Australia has been the official representative body for our Clan in Australia for the past 30 years. My fondest memory during my short relationship with the Association has been the installation of a stone from Douglas Castle fixed to the All Clans Wall at the Australian Standing Stones monument in Glen Innes. This could not have happened without the help and support from the Clan Douglas Association and Mr William Douglas in Scotland.

Jan Shaw and Mary Smith at the Clan Douglas stone dedication 5 May 2012.

A further article recording the history of the Clan Douglas Association of Australia will come in the new year. But for now I want to share with you a formal open letter from the former President of the Association to the Clan Douglas Society.

“ As President of Clan Douglas Association of Australia  for the past decade I congratulate Andrew Douglas and friends for forming a new Society for Clan Douglas,
  I wish them all  every success.
As  the original Clan Douglas Association of Australia  ( 1986 ) winds down it is gratifying to know that another  Clan Douglas organization in Australia will continue.
Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed fellowship with like-minded Douglases in Australia, New Zealand  USA and the United Kingdom.
Through genealogical research we have put family members together.  But moving into the 21 st Century with IT,  ie.  e-mail and Google  everyone is now able to do their own research and we who began CDAA in 1986 are no longer able to keep up with  the changes in our lifestyles.
  I welcome a younger, enthusiastic and innovative group of Douglases working together  to keep our Douglas name and heritage afloat.
We have not yet closed CDAA but in winding down we will no longer take new members nor send out Newsletters.  I have stepped down from President to become an ordinary committee member and Jenny Smith who was Vice President and co-Newsletter Editor has become President.  We still have some ‘loose ends’ to tie up before closing permanently.
I hope our members will join the new Clan Douglas Organization of Australia, and continue to enjoy fellowship with the clan.
Jan Shaw  ( nee Douglas ) ,  Past President of Clan Douglas Association of Australia.“


On behalf of the Clan Douglas Society of Australia Janet, we would like to express our sincere gratitude for your kind words and our deepest thanks to you and all your Committee Members past and present for the wonderful work you have done for our Clan in Australia.

– Andrew Douglas



Scottish Week 2018


The Scottish Australian Heritage Council is proud to present ‘Scottish Week 2018’.

The programme runs in Sydney from Friday 29 June to Saturday 7 July and consists of the following:

Fri 29 June:  Welcome at the Castlereagh hotel
Lecture: “The Elightenment: The Library” by Paul Brunton OAM,
Emeritus Archivist, State Library of NSW
Sat 30 June:  Burns Themed Scottish Dinner, Castlereagh Hotel
Sun 1 July:    Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church,                                       Annandale.
and the Clans and Families Forum, including a speaker from Ancestry on DNA
Mon 2 July:   Joadja, NSW, shale mine excursion, constructed 1878 by Scottish families
(places are limited, so please book early)
Tue 3 July:    Scotland-Australia Cairn, Mosman – Annual inspection and report to                                       Scotland.
Wed 4 July:   Parliamentary Lunch in remembrance of Tartan Day
Thu 5 July:    Walking tour of Sydney – Scottish-Australian highlights from Circular Quay                            to Hyde Park Barracks.
Lecture: “The ‘Long Seige’ of Candia (1648-69): the Knights of St John, a                                  Venetian Protectorate, the Ottoman Empire and a Scottish Regiment”
by Dr Matthew Glozier, President, Sydney Society of Scottish History.
Fri 6 July:      Address by Grant Davidson of Davidston, Chief of Clan Davidson, Luncheon
The 18-Footer Sailing Club, Double Bay
Sat 7 July:      Aberdeen Highland Games.

The theme for Scottish Week is the History, Heritage and Archaeology of Scots in Australia

Bookings are essential. To book please download the application via this link.


The Sorrow and the Shame

This is a very good read, and will explain to many as to how our ancestors ended up in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US.
Indeed it explains how my Great, Great Grandfather ended up in the slums of industrial Birmingham, like so many other Scots.

Grouse Beater

508Vast tracts of the Highlands offer arable land, fit for modern farming methods

If clearing people from their land by force is not cleansing what is it?

The term ethnic cleansing to denote over a hundred years of clearing Scots from their land is a phrase rejected by those who see Scotland by weather, strange culinary habits and language, a little too inclined to be chippy. Alba is full of vexatious people who do nothing but complain. Using ‘cleansing’ is condemned as out of context, erroneously contemporaneous, too emotional because it often it was Scot against Scot.

Well, I have news for slimy proselytisers. It was Jewish guards given temporary preferment who hustled Jews to the gas chambers less their belongings and clothes. Who would dare not call that barbarity a cleansing?

Evictions, deportation in all weathers cause deaths, especially of children, pregnant mothers and the elderly. Many Scots died from the vicissitudes…

View original post 1,742 more words

Badges, Coats of Arms, Crests and Shields.

Hello readers, welcome to our first article for 2018. We do hope your Hogmanay celebrations didn’t leave you feeling too under the weather and that the year ahead is filled with love and laughter.

Today I’m going to write about ‘Heraldry’. In a broad term, heraldry encompasses the design, display, and study of armorial bearings, as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology – the study of flags, together with the study of ceremony, rank, and pedigree.

So what makes heraldry so interesting to so many? In my opinion I believe it is because heraldry provides us with a direct, tangible link to our past. Either as a collective or individually, but particularly as a collective.

I think it’s been conditioned into our DNA to rally under a flag or a banner. We all do it, even when we don’t realise it. The modern day version of ‘rally under the banner boys‘ is flying the flag of your sports team and painting yourself in their colours.

But what has struck me is the sheer amount of rules and regulations governing the use of badges, coats of arms, crests and shields. I suppose this is understandable, these symbols are personal property and heraldic authorities such as the ‘Court of the Lord Lyon’ is an original form of copyright protection when you look at it from a modern day perspective.

All of these items symbolise our heritage; the heart of King Robert the Bruce. The crown for loyalty. Some clans possess some stunning representations on their crests. But a Lizard on a burning hat of fire? What the……

Ok. So let’s start with our Clan crest.

Image courtesy of ScotsClans.

What does this image actually mean?

So what we see here is a belt and buckle surrounding a salamander atop of a ‘cap of maintenance’ and with flames about. Written on the belt is the clan motto ‘Jamais Arriere’; which in Latin translates to ‘Never Behind’.

What’s interesting is that there is no such thing as a collective clan crest, just as there is no such thing as a clan coat of arms. This is a common misunderstanding fuelled by the insatiable demand and supply for Scottish heraldic goods.

What you see here is actually the personal Arms of the chief of the clan which can only be used by the chief but it is permitted for a member of a clan to use as the clan crest.

Clan Badges are seen as a symbol of kinship with a clan or a Scottish family. This came about when chiefs gave their followers a metal plate of their crest to wear as a badge. This badge was fixed to the Clansman’s clothing by a belt and buckle and when not in use the belt and buckle were coiled round the crest badge.

There explains the origins of the belt and buckle to the crest. But what about the salamander and the hat and why are they on fire?

That’s a good question and there is no definitive answer other than pure educated guessing. One thing that should be noted that this crest is believed to come from the ‘Red Douglas‘ branch of the House of Douglas. It may represent the apparent resurrection of the power of the family after the Battle of Arkinholm and the breaking of the Black Douglas branch in 1455.

As for the Salamander, they tend to hide in dead wood, but would come out when the wood was used for a fire. Some people even thought they were born out of the fire.

The ‘cap of maintenance’  it is a ceremonial cap of crimson coloured velvet, lined with ermine (or fur from a weasel), which is worn or carried by certain persons as a sign of nobility or special honour. It is worn with the high part to the fore, the tapering tail behind. It may substitute for the torse (a twisted roll of fabric to indicate some significance) in the heraldic achievement of a person of special honour granted the privilege by the monarch. It thus appears in such cases on top of the helm and below the crest.

As we know, the House of Douglas is populated by nobility, so it’s easy to see the significance of the hat and the explanation of the salamander rising from flames is a clever bit of artistic license to describe the phoenix rising from the ashes.

But our ‘clan crest’ is somewhat a controversial symbol. Not everyone associated with Clan Douglas identify with the Red Douglas and the symbol of the fallen Black Douglas branch is by far more popular.

The crest is only representing one particular family head whose title no longer exists. The image represents the destruction of one branch of Douglas family for the benefit of another.  It’s little wonder the current ‘clan crest’ is not very popular throughout the Douglas clan.

But the Arms of the Black Douglas is a different story.

The reason for this is the profound symbol of the heart.


This badge (or shield) started to appear after the death of Sir James Douglas in 1330 when he was carrying the heart of King Robert the Bruce on Crusade to the Holy Land.

This famous episode in our clan history and the man himself ‘the Good Sir James‘ or ‘the Black Douglas’ is forever etched in tales of legend.

Had it not for the Black Douglas branch of the House fallen out of favour of the Scottish monarchy, be defeated in battle against the Scottish crown (by another branch of the House no less) the clan crest could have looked very different today, perhaps even resembling the image above.

The positioning of the three stars or mullets suggests that the bearer is the eldest son of the Head of the House. (Sir James had a plan shield with three stars). William, Lord of Douglas, was the eldest son to the Black Douglas and his seal appears with the heart and three stars.

The symbol of the heart grew as more and more Douglas families, and even locations associated with the Douglas name adopted their Arms to shields representing the heart and in some cases the crown – presumably to display loyalty to the monarch.

Later, the ‘heart and crown’ appeared in other significant symbols such as the Celtic Claddagh and the Luckenbooth. One must wonder where the creators of these items drew their inspiration? The symbol of the heart and crown continues to grow in popularity in our culture.

So much so that the only two Clan Douglas Societies bare the heart and crown.

The Clan Douglas Society of North America and the Clan Douglas Society of Australia.


I’m not suggesting that we should do away with the current clan crest. After-all clan crests do not exist in any event. But rather perhaps we should rethink on how our clan should be represented.

Obviously I stand for the Black Douglas cause. The Black Douglas is by far the most famous branch of the House, their origins can be traced to ‘Douglasdale’ the very location of the ‘Douglas’ name and their symbol has far more meaning than a symbol that represents the destruction of a family branch during a brutal civil war.

But, word of the wise. If you’re going to create your own crest, or Coat of Arms or anything of that nature. There are rules in place and you must check first before production.

If you’re looking for more information about heraldry. Your first place to visit should be the Australian heraldry society.

Events for January 2018.

Unbelievably 2018 is already upon us and 2018 is looking to be a year jam-packed full of activities right across the land.

So to start us off we begin right away with activities commencing right now in Brisbane and throughout most of the month the Sunshine state in particular has a number of activities.

In January we celebrate the great bard, Rabbie Burns and our great nation.  On behalf of the Clan Douglas Society of Australia we hope you have “A Guid New Year”

Brisbane Smallpipe Session

January 2
Milton, QLD

Smallpipes session. Info: Malcolm McLaren 07 3820-2902 or

Brisbane Clans Pipes & Drums Burns Supper & Dance

January 20
Mitchelton, QLD

Celebrate the Bard with food, music and friends at Gaythorne RSL, Samford Rd. Info 07 3369 2232.

Happy Burns Night

January 25

A night to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns. The tradition of the Burns Night Supper was first held in 1801 by the poet’s friends, five years after his death. Today events take place around the world with Scottish music, poetry, food, drink and dance.



Burns Supper

January 25
Wongawallan, QLD

Greeted by a lone piper to celebrate the great poet Robbie Burns at the Burns Supper at Fox & Hounds Country Inn, 7 Elevation Dr. Info: 07 5665 7582 or

City of Hobart Highland Pipe Band Burns Night

January 25
Hobart, TAS

Celebrate Burns with music, food and more at the Hobart Function and Convention Centre. Info: or 0418 107 175.

2018 Burns Supper

January 25 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Perth, WA 

Celebrate the bard with the Saint Andrew Society of Western Australia. Info:

Happy Australia Day

January 26

Mackay & District Pipe Band Burns Supper 2018

January 27
Mackay, QLD,

Celebrate the 259th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet, Robert Burns. There’ll be pipes & drums, Highland dancing, a buffet dinner, the haggis ceremony, poetry, and Scottish country dancing at North Mackay Bowls Club, 74-76 Malcomson St. Info:

2017 Christmas message.

‘Christmas 2017’. It’s hard to believe we are almost at that time on the calendar already!

We recently marked the first anniversary for our society and in fitting fashion we celebrated that milestone with a gathering at the Burns Club in Canberra. The gathering was well attended by 15 people! Wow! We were very happy to see so many turn up.

Now we’re winding down the year with the traditional festive season. We reflect back on the year and look forward to more special moments with those special people in our lives.

Unfortunately December is a quiet month for anything traditional from the old homeland to enjoy with the community. If you’re fortunate enough to be living in or near Sydney there is a large event called ‘a Joyful Celtic Christmas’.


If you’re interested in a fun evening out contact the Box Office 02 8839 3399 or visit their website.

But if you’re looking to do something traditional at home in a fine Scottish way, then I’m afraid I have some bad new for you. There aren’t too many!

Unbelievably Christmas was banned in Scotland for some 400 years! Even baking Yule bread was banned! So instead the Scottish new years celebration ‘Hogmanay’  became the main festival everyone talks about. But I’m not sure everyone is up for days of drinking and revelry!

However some Scottish traditions did survive over the centuries and still practised in many a household today.

The baking of Yule bread; although its origins is reportedly across the border in Yorkshire; the baking of this delicious bread is a long-held Scottish tradition that survived Cromwells ban.


A loaf of unleavened bread is baked for each individual in the family, and the person who finds a trinket in his or her loaf will have good luck all year. This reminds me of the tradition of placing a sixpence (or five cent piece) into a pudding, resulting no doubt in many chipped teeth and choking. Not a good way at starting a year of good luck!

To bake your own Yule Bread follow these ‘simple’ steps:

  • 1½ cups water

  • 2/3 cup raisins

  • 2/3 cup dried currants

  • 4 cups flour, more if needed

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast

  • 2 eggs

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, creamed

  • 1/3 cup chopped, candied orange peel

  • 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm milk (for glaze)

9 x 5 x 4 inch loaf pan

1. Bring water to a boil, pour half over raisins and currants and leave to soak.  Let remaining water cool to tepid.  Sift flour into a bowl with salt, cinnamon and cloves and stir in sugar.  Make a well in the centre and add tepid water with water drained from fruits.  Crumble or sprinkle yeast over water and leave 5 minutes or until dissolved.  Add eggs and, with your hand, gradually mix in flour. If necessary add more flour to form a smooth dough that is soft but not sticky.

2. Transfer dough to an electric mixer bowl and knead until elastic using the dough hook, 5-7 minutes.  Put dough in an oiled bowl, turning it so the top is oiled.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 2-3 hours.

3. Butter the loaf pan. Return dough to the mixer bowl and add creamed butter. Beat with dough hook at medium speed until butter is mixed and dough is smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Add soaked fruit and candied peel and mix at low speed until incorporated.

4. To shape loaf, turn dough onto a floured work surface. Pat it out with your fist to a rectangle 9 inches wide. Roll dough into a cylinder, pinch edge to seal, then drop carefully into loaf pan, seam side down.  Cover loosely and leave to rise until pan is full, 1½-2 hours.

5.  Heat the oven to 200°C. Brush loaf with glaze and bake for 20 minutes.  Brush again, lower heat to 175° and continue baking until the loaf sounds hollow when unmolded and tapped on bottom, 30-40 minutes. Transfer it to a rack to cool.  Yule Bread can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 1 month, and the flavor matures.  It can also be frozen.  Makes 1 large loaf to serve 8.

But be warned! On Christmas Eve, a Scottish custom has a single person cracking an egg into a cup. The shape of the egg white determined the profession of the possible mate. The egg was mixed into a cake, and if the cake cracked during baking, the person would have bad luck in the next year.

Another, perhaps even less popular Scottish tradition during the festive season is ‘Redding the House.’ 

This annual house cleansing rids the home of bad luck from the previous year and encourages good luck in the new. Part of this custom may include burning juniper branches within the house until it fills with smoke, then opening all the windows to cast out spirits.

This custom does not come with my endorsement during the heat of the Australian summer! But, burning something small perhaps isn’t such a bad idea. Many Scots still burn a twig of the rowen tree at Christmas as a way to clear away bad feelings of jealousy or mistrust between family members, friends, or neighbours.

Of course Redding doesn’t necessarily mean burn all the things (and your house included). It is one of the most important Scottish New Year traditions. Scottish families spend the New Year eve together. They start preparing for the grand event by cleaning their houses and other belongings. It is said that a clean and tidy home can welcome the good spirits of the New Year in the best way. Special attention is given to the fireplaces. The fireplaces should be cleaned and polished.

There are a number of things, which the Scottish families do to bring good luck. According to Scottish New Year traditions, people think that debts bring bad luck, so they clear all debts before New Year eve. They place Rowan trees at the entrance of their houses. They place a piece of mistletoe in the house, which is thought to bring good health for the family (although I’m not sure of the origins of the custom of lovers kissing under the mistletoe). Hazel and yew are kept to bring magical power and protection respectively. Some pieces of holly are also placed inside the house in order to keep away the evil spirits.

To the observer, it certainly appears that all the customs associated with Redding appear to have an ancient origin. Perhaps long before the arrival of Christianity and its subsequent domination over local customs.

If burning things, cleaning your house spotless or turning it into an arboretum isn’t your thing then perhaps a more agreeable custom to observe is when the first visitor to arrives to your home on Christmas Day; Scottish custom has this person called the ‘First Footer’. The person must bear gifts of peat, money, and bread to symbolise warmth, wealth, and lack of want. This also became a New Year’s Day tradition.

Although, peat may be hard to find in this country.

Another custom is placing candles in the window to welcome a stranger is a long-upheld Scottish Christmas tradition.


Whichever way you and your family celebrate Christmas we all still observe customs and traditions even when we don’t realise it. That all just adds to the fun of the occasion while paying a respectful nod to our heritage.

Clansfolk, on behalf of the Clan Douglas Society of Australia I would like to extend my warmest wishes to you for a Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr’ (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year).

Until next year! Lang may yer lum reek!