Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scottish Christmas

Well, it is very like me to propose to post daily, and then to become too busy to follow through with it. So today, to sort of catch  up a wee, I am posting two songs - Scottish carols, both of them, one translated from the Gaelic, and one in Scots.

By now, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that I am terribly fond of Christmas - and of history, and traditions and folk-customs - all of which interests come together so beautifully at this time of year, that I tend to spend rather a lot of time in delighted research. Some Christmas traditions are practically universal - the appearance of the St. Nicholas/Father Christmas figure for example - others are peculiar to certain nations - such as the Irish practice of placing a lighted candle in the window to guide the Holy Family to shelter, should they be in need of it. I find it all tremendously interesting. 

Scotland is sort of the odd man out as far as Christmas traditions go. A cursory search on the matter will provide you with the rather sad information that Christmas as a national holiday is a surprisingly recent development in that country; that Christmas was pretty much treated as an ordinary day until about the 50's; that it was the New Year's celebrations that people really observed. It takes a bit of digging to find out that this is only true as far as it goes. Before the Reformation, Scotland marked Christmastide with as much ceremony and celebration as the rest of Europe did. Then John Knox showed up, and while later came Cromwell and the Covenanters, and for a time the celebration of Christmas was against the law throughout all the United Kingdom. However, there always were little groups of people who continued to keep Christmas anyway - in secret, but as fully and as joyfully as could be managed. Eventually, the law was repealed, and in England, the celebration of it was observed with renewed enthusiasm.

That was not the case in Scotland, however. New Year's Day was observed, but the only people who celebrated Christmas, for the longest time, were the Catholics, and some of the more 'papish' sort of Protestant denominations. It is hard to find out too much more about it. The impression one gets is that it was what we would now term a 'fringe' phenomenon. However, I found this very lovely Christmas card from the Great War, from the Cameron Highlanders, so it can't have been all so small as all that:

From the collection of Rev. William White Anderson,
St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh
And both the carols I am posting are from the time in which Christmas was officially not celebrated. The first, The Christ Child Lullaby was originally written in Gaelic during the 19th century and sung during Midnight Mass in the Outer Hebrides. The version I first heard was sung by The Boys of the Lough, and had some really great bass harmonies going for it, but alack and alas, that version is all but impossible to find in any form whatsoever. This is quite nice, though, so you are getting this version instead:

Balulalow, is quite an old carol by comparison. It was translated from German into Scots by the Wedderburn brothers during the 16th century, which puts it squarely during the Reformation. I only heard this song for the first time a few years back, and was immensely taken with it:

1 comment:

Jack said...

I love the Scottish accent and could listen to it all day, I didn't know it sounded so nice in songs as well.

What is the difference between Scots and Gaelic? I always thought they were the same thing.

That is fascinating! All of that about Scotland and Christmas! I had no idea about any of it.

Both were lovely songs, I really liked the second. But, I like stringed instruments when played in the kind of...I think it is called Bluegrass...way.