‘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
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!