Scottish Wedding Announcements, Past and Present
In the thirteenth century, the medieval Church announced intended marriages
through a process called the banns of marriage. The banns were
proclaimed in the parish church for three successive weeks during Sunday
worship, and the practice continued in Scotland for over six hundred years.
In later centuries, an alternative was to give notice and obtain
a license to marry from a registrar. This method eventually became accepted
by the Church of Scotland. In present day, the practice of banns of marriage
have declined, but giving notices have become compulsory for all regular
marriages. After giving notice, a fourteen-day waiting period must elapse
before the marriage booking and other arrangements may be made for a civil
marriage, or collecting the marriage schedule (a document which licenses
the chosen officiant to conduct the marriage) for the minister or priest
for a religious marriage. Therefore, eloping to Gretna Green (a location
that became known for marrying without the knowledge of families and friends)
actually needs preparation beforehand (notice needs to be given to the
local registrar at Gretna Green, etc.)
Modern Celebrations Before The Wedding
In some regions of Scotland, usually about a week before the nuptials,
a brides' mother may choose to hold a show of presents for their
daughter which is somewhat similar to bridal showers in other cultures,
but in this case showing wedding presents. Invitations are to an open
house rather than for a set time, and the guests are the women among those
who gave presents to the wedding couple. The presents are all unwrapped,
assembled if necessary and set out with the card of the gift giver set
up next to the appropriate gift. The interaction that follows gives the
guests and bridal party a chance to get acquainted before the wedding.
During this time, the guests are shown the presents primarily by the bride
(the bride's maid of honor helps when the bride is busy), have conversations,
and enjoy light repasts of tea, sandwiches, cakes, and other foods and
beverages before taking their leave.
After the show of presents, some Scottish brides are made up
and dressed in long trains that could be made from old curtains colorfully
festooned in whatever party-like material at hand. Or else, they are dressed
in already prepared and garnished costumes. The bride may be given a baby
doll, a plastic potty with salt in the bottom, and other small items to
carry in her arms. Thus adorned and made up, the bride is traditionally
taken out around town by her friends and any remaining guests
from the show of presents. The women make plenty of noise by
singing and banging pot lids and pans to herald the bride's status. To
gather luck, the bride exchanges kisses for money to be dropped into the
potty as the group goes from place to place around town. The purpose of
the salt-filled potty, the doll, the money, etc. is believed to be for
luck, prosperity and fertility, but the true meaning of the symbolisms
In his turn, the groom gets taken out for a stag night which
is the equivalent to the bride's taking out. Although stemming
more from a British tradition than a Scottish one, the groom is sometimes
dressed up and taken around town for his stag night by his male companions.
At times the groom is put into a padded outfit to look like a pregnant
woman. More often, he and his friends would find a bar or party place
to celebrate by drinking to excess. They may indulge in a great deal of
(for the most part) harmless practical joking, of which the groom is the
main target. When the wild night winds down, the groom may be left in
the street in front of his home partially or totally stripped of his clothes,
and in some occasions tied up.
As the groom in more recent days endures the jokes at his expense, so
too did the Highland groom of the past endured the jokes of his friends.
In the Scottish Highlands, an old custom known as creeling the bridegroom
was often practiced. A creel (large basket) filled with stones
was tied to the groom's back. The bridegroom had to carry this weight
throughout the entire town. His friends only allowed him to escape the
creeling if his bride would come out and kiss him, otherwise,
he had to complete the round of the town without removing the creel
full of stones.
A Scottish Marriage of Old
In the past, the guests at a Scottish Penny Wedding took part
in feasting, drinking and dancing at their own expense. The wedding celebrations
started on the eve of the wedding with plenty of singing, drinking and
toasting to health. On the eve, a ceremonial "feet washing" was held.
The bride placed her feet in a tub of hot water, and everyone crowded
around to help wash her feet. Similar to the bouquet tossing, the first
person to find a ring (a married woman's ring was placed into the tub
before the ceremony) while washing the bride's feet was believed to be
the one who would get married next. New rounds of singing and drinking
to health followed.
The following day, the entire wedding procession would start out for
the church. Sometimes, flower petals were thrown at the departing bride
(Today it can be confetti, tiny shapes of pretty, colored paper which
contrast with the white wedding gown and veil, that is thrown when the
bride departs from home or the church) The first person to be met by the
bride on her way to the wedding was given a coin, and a drink of whisky.
That person, called the first foot, had to join the procession
and walk for about a mile before continuing on his or her own business.
Just outside the church doors, the couple would be joined in marriage
by a priest. The vows and joining ceremony were spoken in the vernacular
Scots. After the joining, the priest led the bride and groom, and all
the witnesses from the procession into the church for participation in
a lengthy nuptial mass conducted in Latin. The long mass ended with the
blessing of the food and drink which had been brought along by the guests
and participants, and then shared amongst themselves.
After the church ceremony, the wedding procession went back to a relative's
house to celebrate. At the celebration, pipers played merry tunes and
an outdoor dance and feasting would begin which could last the entire
night. (Today, traditional waltzes and sometimes country dances like the
Gay Gordon are played with more contemporary dance tunes, and
if a Highland style of dancing is preferred, the couple may hire a ceilidh
band.) The newly-wedded couple led off the dancing with a traditional
reel, and then the bride danced a second time with the person of the highest
rank amongst the celebrants. Afterwards, the other guests and celebrants
Toward the end of the joyous celebrations, the entire assemblage saw
the young couple to their new home. As the bride and groom departed, the
groom and groomsmen may sometimes toss low value coins to the ground.
However, before the bride could enter her new home, an oatcake or bannocks
(a biscuit made of barley and oat flour) would be broken above her head
and pieces of the cake were passed around to everyone. When that was done,
the bride was carried over the threshold. The completion of the marriage
ceremony culminated with the priest blessing the newlyweds, their new
home, and their marriage bed as well!