My Experience With Christmas in Scotland
Christmas in Scotland is a magical time. Cold nights, roaring log fires, good malt whisky . . . a Scottish Christmas is a cosy time of celebration for many. Weatherwise, winter in Scotland can be a miserable time, or dreich as the locals would say. The weather is cold and damp, windy and very dark. Snow often covers the countryside, although the temperatures do not plummet as far as other Northern countries. Scotland's latitude means that day lengths are as short as six hours in midwinter. Christmas provides a welcome cheer to brighten the long Celtic nights.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Christmas in Scotland has only resurfaced relatively recently. Christmas was banned by the Christian Protestant church in 1586 for nearly 400 years until it was declared a public holiday in 1958. Christmas (or Yule, as it was known then) was thought to be a catholic and pagan festival. It was a criminal offence to be caught holding celebrations, and there are records of individuals arrested and charged under these laws.
Today, Scotland has re-embraced Christmas with a passion, and from the Highlands and islands to Edinburgh—Scotland's capital—you will find festivities with a fling! Scottish people have reawakened many old Celtic traditions of Yule, and Christmas is a time to celebrate.
The Yule Log
Many of us know of the Yule log as a delicious chocolate cake in the shape of a log, decorated with chocolate, swirled with bark patterns and sugar icing to give the effect of snow. This fantastic Christmas treat, which is fun both to make and to eat, is still popular in Scotland.
Children may like to use small figures, animals, snowmen and generous shakings of glitter or artificial snow. Once complete it can take pride of place on the Christmas table, reminding us of good fortune and the abundance we have.
Origin of the Yule Log
In ancient Europe an actual log would be used; a large piece of wood or tree trunk which would be dragged back home then lit with a torch made from a piece of last year's log. The yule log would be kept burning day and night for 12 days. It was thought that the world stopped tilting for those 12 days—the darkest of the year—and holding the fire of the magical burning log within the hearth of the home would ensure the return of the sun.
In Scotland a yule log is still a symbol used to mark the year's end; many families will bake and decorate a Yule cake to bring luck and good fortune.
Real Yule Logs for the Fire
Actual yule logs are still made and used as a decorative item in Scotland, although their size is modest compared to their ancient counterparts. A wooden Yule log can be made easily.
A yule log is often made from a piece of fir because of its evergreen and magical properties, but any type of wood can be used. It can be decorated with items glued on from the garden, fir cones, holly, cinnamon sticks, festive ribbon and cinnamon sticks.
An age-old favourite in Scotland is the Christmas pudding, made weeks or often months in advance, stuffed full of dried fruit, treacle, nuts and candied citrus peel laced heavily with brandy, whisky or rum. The eating of dried fruit and alcohol at midwinter can be traced back to Ancient Roman times and throughout medieval history. Christmas pudding has been referred to in the 14th century and became popular in Victorian times as plum pudding or figgy pudding.
In Scotland, making Christmas pudding is a family event with each of the members of the house stirring the pudding while making a wish. Coins are inserted just before steaming, which can be kept by the lucky person who finds it within their portion. Before serving, the pudding is doused in warm brandy, set alight with a match and brought to the table ablaze.
Christmas Food and Drink
Scotland is lucky to have such a wealth of fresh produce on her doorstep. Although turkey has become popular in recent years thanks to American influences, many other roast meats take centre stage on the Christmas table.
Mince pies are popular, which don't contain any meat, but a sweet dried fruit and syrup mixture. Starters will traditionally be scotch broth, a densely flavoured lamb broth packed with barley and vegetables. Smoked salmon is popular too as is many other seafood delicacies which thrive in cold Scottish waters. Crab, smoked trout, langoustines and prawns are all at their best in winter months.
Whether it is a lunch or Christmas dinner on the 25th most homes will have a turkey, goose, pheasant partridge or venison. It is usually served with an accompaniment of potatoes and vegetables: roast and mashed potatoes, various vegetables including Brussels sprouts (although the latter are often eaten out of a sense of duty) stuffing, mini pork sausages and bread sauce. Stuffing mixtures are wide and varied, but for a truly Scottish flavour, the oatmeal-based skirlie is hard to beat.
For dessert, Christmas pudding is a favourite, but many other desserts are enjoyed, from trifle and mousse to gateaux. Cranachan is a very elegant oatmeal-based dessert that can be made the night before, chilled in individual glasses.
Skirlie Stuffing Recipe
- 300g of coarse oatmeal
- 2 large onions chopped
- 100g of butter or dripping
- salt and plenty of white pepper
- Melt the butter in a pan and slowly add the oatmeal stirring.
- Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes.
- Stuff the turkey. Skirlie can also be served as a side dish to accompany roast meats or vegetables.
- 60g of coarse oatmeal
- 300g of fresh or frozen raspberries
- 600ml double cream
- 3 tablespoons of runny honey
- 3 tablespoons of malt whisky
- Toast the oatmeal until it is golden brown.
- Whip the double cream until it is thick.
- Stir in the whisky honey and oatmeal, and fold in the raspberries gently.
- Spoon into individual glasses.
Whatever the menu there are usually copious amounts of good Scottish whisky available through the festive season. Households seize the opportunity to crack open a bottle of the best malt. In the Gaelic language, whisky is known as uisge beatha or "water of life"—a fitting drink to celebrate Christmas.
© 2012 Silver Fish