Pic: MDV Weddings
|In the last part of our series on Scottish Wedding customs courtesy of Scot Clans Weddings, we continue on the subject of Wedding Preparations.
The Wedding Sark
The ‘Wedding Sark’ was a gift from bride to bridegroom of the wedding shirt. The groom in turn was to pay for her wedding dress.
Before the marriage took place the young women were busy getting the future bride’s ‘providen’ ready for her future home. One or more days were given to the ‘Thiggan’ of wool from her friends and neighbours.
The Feet Washing
On the night before the wedding, or sometimes the Contrack night, friends and family would gather at one of the parents houses to celebrate the upcomming marriage. The food was plain, perhaps some dried fish and tatties, and there was much teasing and merriment. Part of the night’s entertainment was the ‘feet washing,’ where the bride’s shoes and stockings were removed and her feet washed, when clean her feet were then smeared in soot or shoe blackening. The victim always struggled but in the end always succumbed. To this day young men on their stag nights are often given a similar treatment.
The Wedding Invites or ‘The Biddin’
‘The Biddin’ was when virtually the whole community were given a spoken invitation to attend the wedding. This was done by the best man and maid, and the worst man and the worst maid.
The Wedding Clothes
After ‘The Biddin’ the wedding clothes were chosen, the bride was more likely to choose a coloured dress than the now traditional white one. Popular in past times was a Paisley Shawl or a Paisley patterned dress.
The bride was usually dressed by her maids and every article of dress must be new. The bridal dress was on no account be worn before it was required. Something borrowed must be worn; a ring was accounted of the most virtue.
So goes the saying: ‘Something old something new, something borrowed something blue’.
Signs and Omens
There were many signs and omens and customs which had to be attended to before marriage. On no account must the bride and groom meet on the marriage day till they meet on the bride-stool. Such a meeting would have brought on a series of calamities.
Old style marriage was a community affair. Sometimes the population of a fishing village, sometimes the inhabitants of a rural district. Marriage was a ceremony with which all were concerned. The wedding was a day of public celebration. It would appear that in the customs of the Germanic peoples (Anglo-Saxon) who came to be the dominant cultural group in Lowland Scotland, marriage had three separate components:
The first of these was the ‘bewedding’ where ‘weds’ (Old English ‘weddian’ = to pledge, Germanic, ‘wadhjam’ = a pledge) or surety was given by the bridegroom to the bride’s father in the form of pledges or gifts. To recognise that this had taken place to everyone’s agreement pierced stones (rings) were exchange.
The second component was the giving away of the bride to the bridegroom by the bride’s father. This was conducted as a separate ceremony and was concluded by ‘hand-faestung’ – the joining of hands to seal the contract.
The third part of the marriage was the bridal (Old English ‘bryd ealu’ = brides ale drinking).
There is a common misconception that handfasting was a trial marriage this was not the case. Until 1940 in Scottish Civil Law contract by consent constituted a valid marriage as did marriage by habit and repute. There were however early enactments which tried to force handfast marriages to be regularised in Church.
In the North East of Scotland up until the end of the 19th Century the following custom prevailed. The day would begin by the arrival of the guests at an early hour, those invited by the bride at her home and those invited by the bridegroom at his. Breakfast would be served consisting of oatmeal porridge. After breakfast it was not unusual for all to join in dancing till the hour of going to church came. At the appointed time, if the marriage was to be in the Kirk, two men called ‘sens’ were dispatched from the house of the bridegroom to demand the bride. On making their appearance a volley of fire-arms met them. When they came up to the door of the brides’ home they asked;
“Does (Jenny) bide here?”
“Aye, what dae ye want wi her?”
“We want her for (Jock)”
“Bit ye winna get her’,
“Bit we’ll tak her’.
“Will ye come in, an taste a moothfu o’a dram till we see about it?’
And so the sens entered the house and get possession of the bride.
The Bridal – Or The Penny Wedding
In Lowland Scotland the celebration of the union of man and woman has always been attended by a ‘bridal’. This is an old Anglo Saxon word and consists of two words co-joined; BRYD meaning bride or woman and EALO meaning ale or beer. Thus the bridal is a brides drinking party.
In the past Lowland Scots weddings were called ‘Penny Bridals’ or ‘Siller Bridals’. There is a great deal of information on them gathered by folklore researchers in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is difficult to say when Penny Bridals began. They were certainly the most important occasions for singing, dancing and festivities and were immensely popular. They were attended by whole communities, as many as two hundred participants being not uncommon. It seems that invitations, although given were not specifically required and everyone attending was expected to contribute, hence the name ‘Penny Bridal’.
The bridal would be held in a barn when the marriage was at the farm. In villages the guests were at times divided into parties and feast spread over several houses. Sometimes a ‘change house’ or inn would be used and if the weather were amenable the event would be held on ‘the green’.
The custom at a bridal was to treat everyone as equal and no-one was turned away. At the feast the bride was placed at the seat of honour, the head of the table. The guests arranged themselves according to their fancy. The bridegroom did not take his seat at the table. His duty was to serve and look after the guests.
By the standards of the time the feast was abundant. The first course would be milk broth made of barley; the second, barley broth made from beef mutton or fowls; the third course consisted of rounds of beef, legs of mutton and fowls by the dozen served with loaves and oatcakes. Last came the puddings swimming in cream. Home brewed ale flowed in abundance from first to last. When the tables were cleared big bottles of whisky were brought in and punch made up from them in wooden punch bowls. The cups were filled and handed round and the toasting commenced. First the health of the bride and groom was proposed. Round after round were drunk, each to a toast or sentiment. This would be the time to begin the singing. Songs humorous, bawdy, cautionary and moral.
The beddan was the closing event. The bride would attempt to retire but as soon as she was missed there would be a general rush to the bridal chamber, which was burst open and filled in an instant to perform the ceremony of ‘Beddin the Bride’. After the bride was put into bed a bottle of whisky and some bread and cheese was handed to her. She gave each a dram and a piece of bread and cheese. Her left stocking was then taken off and she had to throw it over her left shoulder amongst the guests. It was then fought for by those in the room. The one who won was to be the first of that company to be married next. This practice must be forerunner of the tradition of the bride throwing her bouquet.
Gretna Green is famed the world over for it’s association with eloping couples and romantic weddings, but the reasons for it’s fame are less to do with Scotland and more to do with the formerly more onerous English Laws of marriage. Because of many abuses of marriage in England by bigamists and opportunists seducing young wealthy girls the Church and aristocratic establishment persuaded the Law Lords of England to formalise and control those ‘irregular’ marriages.
Lord Hardwick’s Marriage Act of 1754 made several new regulations. Amongst the most significant were that if a couple wished to marry they not only had to marry in Church, but also had to be over 21 unless they had the consent of their parents. Lord Hardwicks Act did not apply in Scotland where the legal age was (and still is) 16. A legal and binding marriage could be made in Scotland by declaring before two witnesses. The result, when the Act came into force, was the immediate flight of young lovers who wished to be married against their parents wishes to Scotland. And Gretna, along with Lamberton and Coldstream became favoured locations for these quick marriages.
Thanks again to Scot Clans Weddings for their information: Scottish Wedding Resource for traditional and modern scottish weddings. Help in all aspects from buying kilt outfits to decorations – all their products are made in Scotland.
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