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p. 156



REAT preparation was made for the proper keeping of Christmas and New Year's Day. Three days were observed as holidays at Christmas, and one if not more at the year's eve by tradesmen and labourers of all kinds. A blacksmith would on almost no consideration work on Christmas--in common language, "file his ahpron." If, however, any part of a meal-mill that required his service happened to break, the apron was put on, the fire kindled, and the broken part mended. It might be, human life depended on the repairing of the mill. Any work absolutely necessary for the safety of life, particularly human life, was done without scruple.

Great exertion was made to have every piece of work finished before Christmas; and a work that required some length of time to do, and that could not be carried out between the time of beginning it and Christmas, was put off, if possible, till after Christmas. If a work was begun between Christmas and New Year's Day, all speed was made to have it completed before New Year's Day.

The whole time about Christmas and the New Year was given up to festivity to a greater or less degree. All the straw for the cattle had to be in readiness, and for several weeks before Christmas an additional hour was given to the "flail." Food and drink of all kinds were laid in store. "Yeel" fish was bought. Sometimes this was done from fisherwomen who carried them over the country. Sometimes those in better circumstances went to the fishing villages, and bought the fish from the boat, carried them home, cured them, and smoked them on the kiln. The "Yeel kebback" had been prepared a long

p. 157

time before, and the ale had been brewed more generously than usual, and was in its prime. Omens were drawn from the way in which the wort boiled. If the wort boiled up in the middle of the pot, there was a "fey" person's drink in the pot. Bread of various kinds, "bannocks," "soor cakes," "cream cakes," "facet cakes," "soft cakes," was stored up. At the baking of the Yeel bread a cake was baked for each member of the family, and omens of the lot of the one for whom it was baked during the coming year were drawn. If the cake broke, it was looked upon as foreboding death. If only a piece of it broke off, bad health was augured. It was a habit to keep part of the Yeel cakes as long as possible, and they have been kept for weeks and months. It was thought lucky to do so. It was esteemed very unlucky to count at any time the number of cakes baked. The saying was "there wis nae thrift in coontit cakes, as the fairies ate the half o’ them." For a household to have wanted ale, or fish, or a kebback, was looked upon as a forerunner of calamity during the coming year.

Every means was used to have some piece of new dress, no matter how small. The one who was so unfortunate as to be without such a piece of dress bore the name of "Yeel's jaad." Children were warned against crying on Christmas Day. 1

If a child did cry, it was said "to break Yeel's gird," and that there would be much crying during the year with the child.

The first part of the festival consisted of "Yeel sones." This dish was prepared any time between Christmas Eve and an early hour on Christmas morning. Companies of the young friends of the household were invited to attend, and it was a common practice for some of them, after partaking of the dish in one house, to proceed to another, and then another, and another.

Small basins or wooden "caps" or cogs were ranged in a row, into which the "sones" was poured. Into one dish the cook secretly dropped a ring--betokening marriage; into another, a button--the emblem of a single life; and into a third, a sixpence--the token of widowhood. Each guest then chose a basin, a cap, or a cog.

p. 158

In drinking the "Yeel sones," a small quantity had to be left in the dish.

If the dish seemed to require longer than the ordinary time in its preparation, a late harvest or some disaster during it was augured.

The breakfast on Christmas morning was the best that could be afforded--milk porridge, creamy milk, butter, fish, &c. To have flesh for the Yeel dinner great exertion was made, as it was thought that the cattle would not thrive during the year if it was awanting. It was a custom not to sit down to the great dinner of the year till after sunset. The Yeel kebback was cut by the gueedeman. During the whole time of Yeel the diet was more generous than at other times.

On Christmas Eve a few of the more sportive of the youth in the villages went along the streets, and besmeared doors and windows with sones. Others disguised themselves, and went in companies of three and four, singing, shouting, and rapping at doors and windows. The houses whose inmates were known to them they entered with dancing, antic gestures, and all kinds of daffing. They were called "gysers." 1

Balls were among the amusements of the season. A barn, conveniently situated for the district and sufficiently large, was selected. It was swept as clean as possible, and filled up with seats round the wall--deals supported on all manner of supports--stones, turf, cart-wheel bushes, bags filled with grain, &c. A plentiful supply of eaten cakes, biscuits, cheese, fish, ale, porter, whisky, and sugar for the toddy, was got, and committed to the care, of a few of the "hehds o’ the ball."

Each young man selected his own partner, went for her to her own home, conducted her to the ball-barn, danced with her, saw to her comfort in every way, and when the ball was finished he guarded her home. In the intervals of the dance bread and cheese and different kinds of drink were carried round. There was generally present a woman to sell "sweeties," and the young men lavished their favours in these on their sweethearts and female favourites.

p. 159

What was left over of money and provisions fell to the lot of one or two of the old and needy in the district.

Masonic lodges in certain places held one or other of the days of Christmas as their "annual day." Before the annual day came round, the lodges held many meetings for the admission of new members. On the annual day all the members turned out dressed in their best clothes, and each donned his masonic paraphernalia according to his rank and office. A procession was formed, and the town or village was perambulated with music and flying colours amidst the admiring gaze of crowds of women and boys and girls. The "walk" was concluded by a dinner at the village inn, and sometimes by a ball and supper.

The brute creatures were not forgotten in the midst of all this merriment. All the fourfooted animals of the steading were served with unthreshed corn for their first food. The "clyack sheaf," which had been carefully stored up by itself, was given to the oldest animal of the farm, whether horse, cow, or sheep.

In some districts the "clyack sheaf" was given to the mare in foal, if there was such an animal on the farm.

In some districts this generous diet of corn was given on New Year's Day.

A fire was kindled in each byre on Christmas morning, and in parts of the country the byres were purified by burning juniper in them.

Such as were envious of their neighbours' success, and wished to draw away their prosperity, creamed the well they drew water from. This act was believed to be particularly efficacious in ensuring a rich supply of milk and butter to the one who had cows, and performed the act on the well of those who also owned cows. All the utensils used in the dairy were washed with part of the cream of the well, and the cows received the remainder to drink. This ceremony was gone through in some districts on the last night of the year. In a fishing village on the north-east coast of Aberdeenshire it was performed on the last night of the year, and a handful of grass was plucked and thrown into the pail containing the water. It was at the hour of midnight on

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[paragraph continues] Christmas Eve Christ was born, and it was at the same hour He performed His first miracle of turning the water into wine.

Nothing was carried forth from the house on Christmas morning until something was brought in. Water and fuel were the articles commonly brought in first. By some a handful of grass, or a small quantity of moss, "fog," was carried in, and placed on the hearth. 1

One would on no account give a neighbour a live coal to kindle a fire on this morning. 2

If the fire burned brightly on this morning it was taken as a token of prosperity during the coming year. A smouldering fire indicated adversity. These ceremonies and notions about Christmas were transferred in some places to New Year's Day morning.

The last thing done on the last day of the year was to "rist" the fire, that is, cover up the live coals with the ashes. The whole was made as smooth and neat as possible. The first thing on New Year's morning was to examine if there was in the ashes any mark like the shape of a human foot with the toes pointing towards the door. If there was such a mark, one was to be removed from the family before the year was run. Some climbed to the roof of the house and looked down the "lum" for the dreaded mark.

The first fire was carefully watched. If a peat or a live coal rolled away from it, it was regarded as an indication that a member of the family was to depart during the year.

Some there were who laid claim to divine what kind the coming harvest was to be from the appearance of the stars during the last night of the year.

From the way in which the wind blew on New Year's Day auguries were drawn whether the crop of beans and peas would be good or bad during that year.

Very often on New Year's Day companies of young men in twos, threes, and fours set out shortly after breakfast to "thigg" for an old woman, or an old man, or an aged couple, or an invalid that might be in narrow circumstances. Carrying a

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sack to receive the alms of meal and a small bag for the money, they travelled over a good many miles of the district of the country in which they lived, getting a "bossiefu" of meal from this guidewife and a contribution of money from this other one. They usually sang the following song:--

"The guide new year it is begun,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan.
The beggars they're begun to run,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
Rise up gueedewife, an dinna be sweer,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
An deal yir chirity t’ the peer,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
May your bairnies n’er be peer,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
Nor yet yir coo misgae the steer,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
It's nae for oorsels it we come here,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
It's for . . . . . . sae scant o’ gear,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
We sing for meal, we sing for maut,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
We sing for cheese an a’thing fat,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
Fess naither cog nor yet the mutty,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
Bit fess the peck fou’ lairge and lucky,
  An awa b’ mony a toon.
The roads are slippery, we canna rin,
  B’ soothan, b’ soothan,
We maun myne oor feet for fear we fa’,
  An rin b’ mony a toon."

Then came the question: "Are ye gueede for beggars?" "Sometimes," was the answer, followed by the question, "Fah are ye beggin for?" "For so-and-so." The alms was then given, and then came the words of thanks, which were often improvised in a kind of doggrel.

The young men were invited to sit down, and partake of the New Year's hospitality. The invitation was refused with the words, "Na, na, sittin beggars cumna speed." The whisky bottle and the Yeel kebback were forthwith produced; or, if

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whisky was refused, ale. The thiggars partook of the good things and set out again.

When the bag of meal became too heavy to be carried conveniently it was left in some house, and another bag was substituted. By such an action as much meal and money were collected for many a poor old worthy as, supplemented by a small sum from the "peer's box," kept want from the door, and the heart of the receiver was filled with gratitude, and the hearts of the doers with a feeling of contentment.

On the last night of the year the children, particularly in the villages, went into the houses asking their "hogminay." Sometimes they joined in companies and sung the following ditty:--

"Rise up, aul wife, an shack yer feathers;
Dinna think it we are beggars;
We're only bairnies come to play--
Rise up an gee’s wir hogminay.
Wir feet’s caul, wir sheen’s thin,
Gee’s a piece an lat’s rin.
We'll sing for bread, we'll sing for cheese,
We'll sing for a’ yir orra bawbees,
We'll sing for meal, we'll sing for maut,
We'll sing for siller to buy wir saut." 1

Something was usually given to the children--"a piece," sweeties, or a bawbee, and away they ran in their innocent glee, shouting and singing in the full enjoyment of their strong joyous life.

Raffles formed a part of the Christmas and New Year's amusements. They were usually set on foot for behoof of some one in distress. An obliging farmer gave the use of his barn. It was swept and made all trig, seats around the wall, with a table in one corner. A fiddler was engaged. The goods to be raffled were all prepared-tea, sugar, tobacco, &c. &c. In due time the braw lads and bonnie lasses began to assemble. The whole was presided over by a few of the wise of the district, and two or three of them always sat at the raffle table dispensing justice. At the appointed hour dancing began. When each dance was finished the young man staked for his partner, and

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she threw the dice with her own hand. If he was gallant he staked again and again. The stakes were of small amount 1d. or 2d. An evening was passed in innocent fun, and good was done.

Shooting-matches formed a great amusement. Such matches were set on foot chiefly for the benefit of a poor man or woman, or of an invalid in poverty. A sheep, or a pig, or a quarter of an ox, was bought and cut up into pieces of convenient size; or a quantity of tea, sugar, and tobacco was purchased, and made up into parcels of two ounces for the tea and tobacco, and of two pounds for the sugar. Each piece of meat was put in at so much per pound, usually from a penny to 2d. above the current price. So many marksmen entered the lists for it, each paying his share of the price. The piece fell to the best marksman. The same mode was adopted with the other articles. In this way a considerable sum was left over, after paying the current price of the articles, for the benefit of the one in distress for whom the match was set on foot.

The target was usually set up at the bottom of a brae for the sake of safety. When the match was finished, the boys, set free from school by the "Yeelplay," immediately set to work to dig for the balls. The lead so recovered was manufactured at times anew into balls; but oftenest into "lead pikes" and "lead bullaxes" to rule the copy-books at school, as pencils were scarce, and ruled copy-books were not then in use.

Children had their games of chance, as their seniors had their card-playing and their "dambrod" or "dams." They had three games in particular--"the totum," "nivey neecknack," and "headocks or pintacks." The stakes were pins. A plentiful supply of "spot" and loose pins was got. Great was the joy when the "Yeel preens" came from the shops, and anxiously was "Yeelday" looked for, that the games and the fun might begin. Everyone must have a "totum." Not content with gaining, the youngsters must trock "totums," giving pins in boot, sometimes, however, making a "fair swap." With thrifty provident children the totum was stored up after Christmas to serve for other years.

p. 164

Card-playing received a full share of attention, and the gaming was for the most part for money, or "in earnest." The play was carried on during night, till an early hour in the morning, either in private houses, or in taverns, or roadside inns, and by many night after night. When the play was carried on in a tavern, so much money was deducted at every game from the "pull" to buy whisky, or, as it was expressed, "for the gueede o’ the hoose." The mutchkin stoup stood on the table, and each player had a glass, which was replenished from the stoup as it was emptied. When the stoup itself was emptied, it was again filled. Bread and cheese or fish were supplied in abundance by the host or hostess, without additional charge. So passed the night, and by morning many of the players felt both their heads and their pockets lighter.

In parts of Buchan it was deemed unlucky to spend money in any form on "Hansel Monandy." Some went so far as not to give the smallest thing away. If money was spent, or anything given away, the luck of the year fled with the money or the gift. In other districts (Banff) mistresses made small gifts to their domestics. 1

Some were in the habit of giving, on the morning of that day, a small quantity of unthreshed oats to the cattle and the horses on the farm,


"First comes Candlemas,
An syne the new meen,
The first Tyesday aifter that's Festren’s e’en.
That meen deen, the neist meen fou,
The first Sunday after that's Peace true,"

Every one must have a beef dinner on this day. If a farmer had not flesh for dinner on this day, the cattle would not thrive, and some of them would assuredly die before the return of the day.

The chief dish of the dinner was brose made of the beef-bree. Into this dish was put a ring, and at times a button along with

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the ring indicated marriage, and the button a single life. The one got the ring must on no account make known the fact till the dish was finished. Whoever got the ring wore it till next morning, when it was given back to its owner. The dreams were carefully noted, and prognostications drawn from them regarding the prosperity or adversity of the coming year.

In the villages parties of the young, each at times carrying a spoon, went the round of several houses to get their brose. There was placed on the table a large basin filled with the savoury food and reeking hot, and round it stood the young, eager and ready, with spoon in hand. When all was ready there was a rush, and each carried off a spoonful. Then another rush and another, amidst laughter and joke, till the basin was empty.

In the evening bannocks were baked. These bannocks were composed of beaten eggs, oatmeal, and milk, and were baked on "the girdle." In later times flour was substituted for oatmeal.

Prior to baking the bannocks, the fortune of each of the unmarried present was read by some one skilled in such lore. Each chose an egg and gave it to the fortune-teller. She carefully broke it in the middle on the edge of a wine-glass, and dropped the albumen into the glass, which contained a little water. From the figures made by the albumen in the water, the events of the future life were prognosticated; and many is the time the prediction of this one's marriage has come true, for she was seen in the glass standing before the minister; of this boy's becoming a minister, for so-and-so saw "a kirk wi’ a steeple" in his glass; of this other one's death, for a winding-sheet appeared in her glass.

The bannocks were baked in presence of all, and all took a hand in the work. One poured the unbaked mixture on the girdle, another turned the cake, another took off the cake when baked, another sat holding a dish to receive the baked cakes, and all were busy eating the cakes. The evening's amusement,. were concluded by the baking of the same ingredients into a cake of much thicker consistency than the others, which went by the name of the "sautie bannock." The one who baked it must on

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no account utter a single word. During the process of baking, every means was used to make the baker of it break, silence. If the baker was betrayed into speaking, her place was taken, by another. Into the cake was put a ring. When baked it was cut into as many pieces as there were unmarried persons present. Each chose a piece. The one who got the piece containing the ring was the first to enter into the married life.

On no account was there ally spinning on "the muckle wheel" on this day.

On Fastern's day the men engaged in a game of "ball." This was done, as some allege, to prevent them from taking "a sehr back" during harvest. The game might be either by throwing the ball, or kicking it with the foot--football--or by striking it with "the club" or "scuddie." 1

Cock-fighting was an amusement indulged in, particularly by boys at school.


On the evening of Valentine Day companies of the young unmarried men and women met, and drew "valentines." This was done in the following way:--The names of all the young men and women in the neighbourhood were written on slips of paper. The slips of paper were carefully folded up. The slips bearing the names of the young men were put into one bag, and those bearing the names of the young women were put into another. The young men drew from the bag containing the names of the females, and the young women drew from the other. The young mall or young woman whom each drew was the "valentine." Of course there was much merriment, and sometimes there was a little disappointment if the wished-for "valentine" was not drawn. The slip of paper bearing the name was carefully preserved by each, and put below the pillow to evoke dreams. 2


In some districts eggs were rolled on the Saturday afternoon preceding "Peace Sunday." Generally the young had been

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collecting whin blossom to dye the eggs. In cold late springs there was the risk of not getting the desired blossom, and grave were the speculations among the young about the whin being in blossom in sufficient quantity to afford the dye.

In other districts there was no rolling of eggs. An egg was, however, given to each member of the family for breakfast. The young strictly enjoined the older members not to break, as was usually done, the shells after eating the eggs. The shells on that day were reserved for boats, and, if there was a stream or pond at hand, the young hurried away after breakfast to sail their shells. If there was neither stream nor pond, a tub was filled with water that the egg-boats might be sailed.


In some districts fires were kindled on the 2nd of May, O.S. They wore called bone-fires. The belief was that on that evening and night the witches were abroad in all their force, casting ill on cattle and stealing cows' milk. To counteract their evil power pieces of the rowan-tree and woodbine, chiefly of rowan-tree, were placed over the byre doors, and fires were kindled by every farmer and cottar. Old thatch, or straw, or furze, or broom was piled up in a heap and set on fire a little after sunset. Some of those present kept constantly tossing up the blazing mass, and others seized portions of it on pitch-forks or poles, and ran hither and thither, holding them as high as they were able, while the younger portion, that assisted, danced round the fire or ran through the smoke, shouting, "Fire! blaze an burn the witches; fire! fire! burn the witches." In some districts a large round cake of oat or barley-meal was rolled through the ashes. When the material was burned up, the ashes were scattered far and wide, and all continued till quite dark to run through them still crying "Fire! burn the witches."


In other districts fires were lighted on Hallowe’en. Villagers and farmers alike must have their fire. In the villages the boys

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went from house to house and begged a peat from each householder, commonly with the words, "Ge’s a peat t’ burn the witches." In some villages the boys got a cart for the collecting of the peats. Part of them drew the cart, and part of them gathered the peats. Along with the peats were collected straw, furze, potato haulm, everything that would burn quickly, all which were piled up in a heap, and set on fire. One after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke, and jumped over him.

When the heap was burned down, the ashes were scattered. Each one took a share in this part of the ceremony, giving a kick first with the right foot, and then with the left; and each vied with the other who should scatter the greatest quantity. When the ashes were scattered, some still continued to run through them, and to throw the half-burned peats at each other, and at times with no small danger.

At each farm, as high a spot as possible, not too near the steading, was chosen for the fire. Much the same process was gone through as with the villagers' fire. The youths of one farm, when their own fire was burned down, and the ashes of it scattered, sometimes went to the neighbouring fire, and lent a hand in the scattering of its ashes. During the burning of the fire and the scattering of the ashes, the half-yearly servants on the farm, if they intended changing masters, sang:--

This is Hallaeven,
The morn is Halladay;
Nine free nichts till Martinmas,
An soon they'll wear away."



157:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 72.

158:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 66.

160:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 74.

160:2 Ibid. p. 72.

162:1 Cf. Henderson, pp. 64, 65, 76.

164:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 77.

166:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 77.

166:2 Cf. F. L. Record, vol. ii. p. 125.

Next: Chapter XXIII. Countings-Out