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Christmas in Scotland

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Title: Christmas in Scotland  
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Subject: Christmas, Hogmanay, Economy of Edinburgh, Christmas in Scotland, Scottish Reformation
Collection: Christmas in Scotland, Religion and Politics, Scottish Reformation
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Christmas in Scotland

Christmas funfair

Prior to the Reformation of 1560, Christmas in Scotland, then called Yule (alternative spellings include Yhoill, Yuil, Ȝule and Ȝoull; see Yogh), was celebrated in a similar fashion to the rest of Catholic Europe. Calderwood recorded that in 1545, a few months before his murder, Cardinal Beaton had "passed over the Christmasse dayes with games and feasting". However, the Reformation transformed attitudes to traditional Christian feasting days, including Christmas, and led in practice to the abolition of festival days and other church holidays;[1][2] the Kirk and the state being closely linked in Scotland during the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period.

A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the "Yule vacation and all observation thereof in time coming".


  • Post-reformation suppression of Yule Tide celebrations 1
  • Post-war period 2
  • References 3
  • See also 4

Post-reformation suppression of Yule Tide celebrations


Two Acts of the Estates of Parliament—Act dischairging the Yule vacance (2 June 1640)[3] and Act dischargeing the Yule vacance (15 April 1690)[4]— abolished the Yule Vacance (Christmas recess). The first Act was partly repealed in 1686,[5] when Episcopalianism was briefly in ascendancy within the Kirk, and the second Act was partly repealed in 1712, by The Vacance Act of the Westminster parliament.[6]

The 1640 Act stated (in Middle Scots):[3]

  • "... the kirke within this kingdome is now purged of all superstitious observatione of dayes... thairfor the saidis estatis have dischairged and simply dischairges the foirsaid Yule vacance and all observation thairof in tymecomeing, and rescindis and annullis all acts, statutis and warrandis and ordinances whatsoevir granted at any tyme heirtofoir for keiping of the said Yule vacance, with all custome of observatione thairof, and findis and declaires the samene to be extinct, voyd and of no force nor effect in tymecomeing." (English translation:[7] "... the kirk within this kingdom is now purged of all superstitious observation of days... therefore the said estates have discharged and simply discharge the foresaid Yule vacation and all observation thereof in time coming, and rescind and annul all acts, statutes and warrants and ordinances whatsoever granted at any time heretofore for keeping of the said Yule vacation, with all custom of observation thereof, and find and declare the same to be extinct, void and of no force nor effect in time coming.")

Robert Jamieson recorded the opinion of an English clergyman regarding the post-reformation suppression of Christmas:[8]

"The ministers of Scotland, in contempt of the holy-day observed by England, cause their wives and servants to spin in open sight of the people upon Yule day, and their affectionate auditors constrain their servants to yoke their plough on Yule day, in contempt of Christ's nativity. Which our Lord has not left unpunished, for their oxen ran wud, and brak their necks and lamed some ploughmen, which is notoriously known in some parts of Scotland."

Post-war period

Christmas pudding on flames

Christmas in Scotland was traditionally observed very quietly, because the Church of Scotland – a Presbyterian church – for various reasons never placed much emphasis on the Christmas festival.

Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958, and Boxing Day in 1974.[9] The New Year's Eve festivity, Hogmanay, was by far the largest celebration in Scotland. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were traditionally held between the 11th of December and 6 January. However, since the 1980s, the fading of the Church's influence and the increased influences from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, Christmas and its related festivities are now nearly on a par with Hogmanay and "Ne'erday". The capital city of Edinburgh now has a traditional German Christmas market from late November until Christmas Eve.[10]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Christmas in Scotland: Christmas Around the World. World Book. 2001. p. 23.  
  3. ^ a b "Act dischairging the Yule vacance".  
  4. ^ "Act dischargeing the Yule vacance". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (in Middle Scots). St Andrews: University of St Andrews and National Archives of Scotland. Retrieved 2 December 2011. 
  5. ^ "Act for the Christmas vacation". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (in English translation). St Andrews: University of St Andrews and National Archives of Scotland. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "Act discharging the Yule vacation". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (in English translation). St Andrews: University of St Andrews and National Archives of Scotland. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Houston, Rab; Houston, Robert Allan (2008). Scotland: a very short introduction. Very short introductions 197. Oxford University Press. p. 172.  
  10. ^ "Traditional German Christmas Market" Edinburgh's Christmas. Retrieved during the pre-festive season 2011.

See also

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