Scottish wedding traditions: Clothing, flowers, food and decorations
An overview of Scottish wedding traditions, inclusing the Stag Party and Hen’s Night, the use of tartan, the silver horseshoe, appropriate dances, and other customs.
In this day of reconnecting to our roots, a traditional Scottish wedding is a beautiful thing to behold. Creating a Scottish wedding that is identifiable is a bit of a challenge as the biggest wedding tradition of the Scots is that the wedding is held in church. Well, that isn’t very helpful, now is it? Here are a few ideas for your wedding (and before) to help add that Highland air to your special day.
The Stag Party/Hen’s Night
The last night out is a very common tradition in the United States. We are quite used to the idea of our groom-to-be running amuck with his friends before the ceremony. Traditionally in Scotland there is also a bride’s last bash, and both parties are held on the night before the wedding. I don’t recommend sticking to the traditional scheduling on this one, but if you are comfortable with saying your vows in a hangover fog, be my guest.
Scotts, being fun lovers, one and all, do have a few odd little traditions for these parties. Practical jokes are the biggest of them. Anything that you can do to the lucky woman/man sees that it is done. Some traditional torments include dressing the groom up with a fake pregnant belly and a dress, or ending the night with him tied up on his (or his fiancé’s) front porch, with or without his clothing. The Hen’s Night is a bit kinder, forcing the bride into a veil made of whatever is handy and parading her around making her kiss friends and strangers for money. The Hen’s night veil should be ridiculous. Try a towel, clean diaper, shower curtain, or pantyhose. The bride or one of her maids collects the kissing cash in a cleaned out chamber pot, if you can find one, or a baby’s training potty would work for a modern twist.
The Silver Horseshoe
Horseshoes are a symbol of good luck to come. As the bride begins her trek down the aisle, a boy near to her heart and dressing in his tartan hands her a silver horseshoe which she is to carry all during the ceremony for luck. The Page Boy, as he is called, can also serve as the ring bearer, or you may honor two little boys during the ceremony. If the idea of totting equine footwear during yours wedding is unappealing, talk to your florist about a bouquet shaped like a horseshoe, or about wrapping your flowers around a real horseshoe. If you use the second option, be extra careful when you later do the “Bouquet toss.” Ouch!
The traditional all occasion flower of Scotland is heather, which many American florists can import fresh or dried. Heather dries beautifully, and makes a striking addition to a Scottish wedding.
The Scottish bride, like the American bride, traditionally wears white. The Scottish dress is usually Victorian in style, but many “fairy tale” type dresses will do. She should also wear a broach on her shoulder, though it is empty until the beginning of the actual ceremony.
Use of Tartan
“Tartan” is every Scott’s favorite color. At your wedding, have the men of the wedding party wear the tartans of their own families. If this creates a look that is too clashing for your eyes, the groomsmen and his family can wear his tartan and the bride’s male relations can wear her clan’s colors. If you choose to drape the altar in tartan, it is your choice whose clan gets the distinction.
The groom should, in addition to his dress kilt, also be prepared with a fine sash of his tartan. When the bride’s father “gives her away,” the groom takes her hand and draws her to him, then wraps the sash diagonally around her torso and fastens it with the brooch she’s wearing. This symbolizes him welcoming her into the family. If your groom is too nervous to be near his bride with a sharp brooch (blood clashes with wedding attire) or merely if it is your preference, the groom’s father or the Best Man are also appropriate people to apply the new tartan to her gown.
Leaving the Church
As the bride and groom leave the church, instead of being pelted with rice, birdseed or bubbles, they get to throw things at their guests. Gently. It is traditional in Scotland for the bride and groom to toss coins for their guests to gather outside the church. It is said that this generosity will follow them throughout the marriage as people return the kindness to them.
Dancing at a Scottish Reception
Your reception should start out with either a Grand March or a traditional reel. Then the bride dances with the person of highest rank in attendance (that is to say, the oldest man present who can dance), or she can do a father-daughter dance. For a tearjerker, play “Tis the Ring Your Mother Wore” for a father-daughter dance. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Other traditional party dances are “Strip the Willow” “Gay Gordons” and “Dashing White Sargent.” If your families aren’t so inclined to these dances (and they do take a wee bit of practice), try a snowball waltz. For this, the bride and groom dance together for 20 seconds or so alone to a waltz of your choice. Then they go and choose new partners from the seated masses. 20 seconds later, all four go and choose new partners. Repeat until the floor is full and the music is over.
Leaving the Scottish Wedding
In traditional, olde tyme Scotland the entire party took the bride and groom to their new home, where the priest would bless the threshold, the house and the bed. If you aren’t keen on having your family party in the living room on your wedding night, have your priest/pastor bless the couple and their future family before they go to the “get away car.”
The final touch on a Scottish wedding is singing “Auld Lang Syne” as the happy couple go of to face their future.
Congratulations and good luck!