Christmas in Scotland: Facts About Scottish Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Scottish Christmas traditions, customs and celebrations.

  • Christmas in Scotland was actually banned in the 17th for religious reasons. Until the early 20th century, Christmas was celebrated quietly and discreetly. Today, it is widely celebrated, along with the Scottish New Year, called Hogmanay.

  • Many Scots practice ‘first footing’ on New Year’s Eve. The first person to enter the home after midnight should be male, dark and carry a traditional gift of shortbread or whisky.
  • Edinburgh, Glasgow and other large cities all hold large Hogmanay celebrations, with bonfires and fireworks. In some years, almost 400,000 people crowd the streets of Edinburgh on New Year ‘s Eve.
  • Some Scots believe in keeping a fire going all through Christmas to keep away evil spirits. Mistletoe hung from the ceiling or in doorways is also said to keep evil spirits out and bring good fortune.
  • A traditional dinner at Christmas in Scotland includes broth, smoked salmon, turkey and Christmas pudding. Bannock cakes, made from oatmeal are also popular during the festive season.
  • Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day, is also a public holiday in Scotland. Tradesmen and servants were once given Christmas boxes or gifts, which is probably where the name came from.
  • Burning the branches of a Rowan tree is a popular Scottish Christmas custom. It is thought that any bad feelings among friends or families are removed as the wood is consumed by the fire, to ensure a happy year ahead.
  • In some parts of Scotland, Christmas Eve is also known as Sowans Nicht. The name may come from a dish of oat husks and water, known as sowans.
  • Fire is an important part of Christmas in Scotland. Some Scots dance around a bonfire on Christmas Day, and in Burghead, residents take turns to carry a huge burning barrel on their head.
  • The Scottish enjoy watching pantomimes, which are traditional British plays performed at Christmas They are often based on a fairy tale, have childish humour and lots of audience participation.

What next? Learn more about Scotland, or visit our Christmas Around the World page.