McNally goes in search of Christmas past and discovers how times
have changed in Scotland over the years.
As Christmas lights twinkle in every window and shops overflow
with frantic festive shoppers it may seem hard to believe that
Christmas is a relatively new addition to the Scottish calendar.
But as recently as the 1960s it was just another day for many
people as Scotland continued a tradition dating from the 16th
century of officially ignoring Christmas Day.
Workers were often required to turn up at the office as normal
and any festivities had to wait until New Year's Day, the main
holiday of the year.
A look at marriage records from the 1940s and 50s show a surprising
number of weddings on Hogmanay simply because the following day
was the only day off a working couple could expect.
"It sounds paradoxical but the reason Christmas wasn't celebrated
in Scotland was a religious one," explains Dr Alan MacDonald,
a lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Dundee.
"There was a fundamentalist view of Christianity which came in
with the Reformation in 1560 and that was if something wasn't
in the Bible then it should not be celebrated.
"The only holy day that was kept was Sunday. Because Christmas
day did not fall on a Sunday except by chance it was not celebrated.
Easter was the same.
"In the early part of the 20th century it wasn't even a school
holiday. And there was still a postal delivery on Christmas Day,
unless it was a Sunday, until the 1960s."
Individuals did, of course, continue to celebrate Christmas in
their own way with their own families but despite December 25
being officially declared a bank holiday as early as 1871 it took
almost another century to begin to rival the New Year holiday.
"The celebration of Christmas was a gradual thing," says Dr MacDonald.
"The change came about due to a softening of religious views although
there are still churches in Scotland that don't take any notice
"We have gradually fallen in line with the rest of the UK. The
impact of the media is another consideration. It is interesting
because it seems Scotland did not get its Christmas from England.
One example is the use of the name Santa Claus rather than the
English Father Christmas but whether that influence is from Europe
or the USA is hard to say."
The European influence also plays a part in explaining the original
adoption of January 1st as a major holiday.
"New Year's Day in Scotland in terms of calendar was March 25
until 1600," explains Dr MacDonald.
"When January 1st was adopted in 1600 it brought Scotland into
line with the rest of Europe but not with England which didn't
change until the 18th century.
was quite typical of the time. Scotland had been at war with England
for so long that it tended to avoid doing what England was doing.
In fact at the time that the New Year changed, the proclamation
made some reference to all "other civilized nations" having the
same date thereby implying that England was not a civilized nation."
Although it was considered more sensible to start the New Year
at the beginning of the month rather than in the middle the new
date was also more religiously acceptable to Reformation Scotland
than March 25 with its Catholic associations.
"March 25 was lady day," says Dr MacDonald. "It is nine months
before the 25th of December so it was believed to be the day Christ
was conceived and therefore the start of his life. It was the
theoretical date of conception."
January 1 also provided a festival very close in time to Christmas
and the winter solstice and offered an alternative celebration.
"40 years after Scotland dropped Christmas it changed the New
Year and that is why the New Year was celebrated so much. It provided
a focus and pulled people away from celebrating Christmas and
Now though it would seem that Scotland is making up for lost time
and its four Christmasless centuries by putting December 25 very
firmly back on the holiday agenda.
Of course this doesn't mean any weakening of support for New Year.
Why have one wonderful holiday when you can have two!
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