Friday, December 6, 2013

Scotland: Christmas Past

It seems just a bit un-festive to post pictures about our Scotland trip while we are all trying to get into the holiday mood (rather than summer!). So, I thought I'd pull a few old photos out and talk about Christmas in Scotland.

Some of the first things that come to mind when I think of the Christmases we spent in Scotland are the early nights -- i.e. dark at 4 p.m. I was often in the town every afternoon to do some form of shopping and usually I pushed the buggy home in the dark cold. 

Of course this darkness makes for very romantic looking street scenes such as this view in Edinburgh: car lights, shop windows foggy and glowing from within (and trying to shut early!), and Christmas lights twinkling on the lamp posts or trees.
And then there is the menu of holiday foods that is certainly different from what we are used to in the states: mince pies and Christmas cakes, clooty dumpling and shortbread, party foods like sausage rolls and vol-a-vonts, the essential brussel sprouts and turkey, and the New Year's steak pie. Fortunately, its in my genes to adore this food!

Over the years I had to try my hand at baking these traditions with various results! (including large growths of mold on the Christmas pudding) 

Children's parties are taken seriously and the children DRESS UP! Here is a picture from our Mums and Tots group. Lots and lots of chocolate for the children! (One year Rachel and Andrew received a total of 21 boxes or assortment packages of chocolate!)

One of my favorite introductions was to Clooty Dumpling -- this is a large pudding boiled in a cloth ("clooty") for numerous hours and then enjoyed with custard poured on top. I do find a homemade clooty dumpling very hard to resist! One of these days I'm going to figure out a gluten free version and set aside the afternoon to boil up my own dumpling.

I found the charity shops (thrift stores) to be a great place to find Christmas presents.

I couldn't give up my American sugar cookies though so I always took some time to make vast quantities in varying degrees of beauty depending on time and energy.

 And one year I did attempt the infamous Christmas cake. Michael and I were lucky that we already had an affinity for fruit cake and even better, the British fruit cake is ten times more delicious than any American fruitcake. This was the only year I decorated my cake though. From then on we've always enjoyed ours plain.

 Ten years ago a myriad of Christmas decorations was not easy to come by in your average Scottish town. I had no access to shops like JoAnn Fabrics or even the craft section of Walmart. Our first year I managed to find red candles in the town and then I did a little trimming of our cypress bushes out back and was kindly given some holly from the minister's garden.

Little by little decorations did appear on the shelves in Airdrie, especially after the opening of a pound store. I bought several mini trees for a pound each and then bent them to look like fake garland! This is the fun of not having everything at your fingertips -- it causes you to be creative. And while that creativity does require emotional and physical energy, if you can spare those two things, then the creativity can be a lot of fun!

 All shopping was done with our "family car" -- the double buggy. Up and down the streets, into and out of shops, this is how we got everything home. (Incidentally, no one in the UK bats an eyelid at filling up your stroller with your groceries and then going to the checkout. Here in the US, security would be called the second you put the first thing into your stroller!)

More cookies: this picture gives you an idea of our kitchen which in Scotland includes the washing machine (and we had a clothes dryer too!). Other useful appliances included my electric kettle and the electric steamer.

We did manage to buy a fake tree our first year -- real trees were just beginning to become more popular and were still above our price range. No decorations? Time to make them out of salt dough.

I even got up the courage to go into a narrow little tailor's shop and ask for scraps so I could make stockings and other decorations. At first amusedly shocked, the occupants were happy to oblige and told me to come back the following day when they handed over a nice assortment of bits and bobs.

I think the British Christmas dinner is something akin to our Thanksgiving dinner -- traditional rules! You can pretty much tell the menu of the majority of the population without asking: Roast turkey with bacon-wrapped stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, steamed veg (like carrots), maybe parsnips. And, many people eat their meal in courses: soup or salad to begin, main course, then dessert -- which will be the flaming Christmas pudding. The table is always decorated with Christmas crackers and everyone dons the paper crown inside to eat their dinner. Oh, and there is also the traditional Christmas speech by the Queen to listen to!

We've never had more presents than when we were in Scotland. Everyone in church sent over presents for us. I think it was their way of making us feel at home in a foreign country. We felt very loved.

Just as I took many of my American traditions to Scotland with me, so I've brought some of the Scottish traditions home with me. I think my favorite Christmas treat is the mince pie and after that Christmas pudding and then Christmas cake. And we always listen to the Queen's Speech!


Rachel said...

Oh wow, this post shows me just where we get our NZ Christmas traditions from. It's all pretty much exactly the same, except steamed pudding is called Christmas Pudding. And I have adopted over the years the American tradition of sugar cookies and sometimes we have a Christmas Eve feast, just like we did in Chicago, which is just not the done thing here in NZ. Instead of turkey we have a baked ham! Yum yum.

Lovella ♥ said...

I love seeing how you made your home so homey in Scotland. It is interesting how British we are in Canada. We've always enjoyed Christmas cake and steamed pudding and didn't realize how many of the ingredients we use originate from Britain.

Your cookie baking there... amazing.

Kathy said...

Thanks so much for this post. A couple of centuries ago my family came from England and Scotland so I really enjoy seeing and hearing about it. I love that first picture of the street scene. I wanted to walk right into it. You make an amazing amount of cookies. Wish I were that ambitious.

Every year on Christmas my family has crackers and listens to the queen's speech too. Some things just never change.

Anonymous said...

Love these posts about Scotland, and your tea posts.. all so beautiful..
FYI - it's "Vol-au-vent" (flight in the wind translation ;))

puttermuch said...

Your Scotland home looked beautiful and so festive....thank you for sharing some of your traditions. I've long wanted to make a British fruitcake and, finally last year, a British friend of mine gave me her mother's recipe which I'll make this year.
I love the photo of you with (some of) your little ones, what happy faces!


DawnC said...

Wonderful!! More Please.....

Anonymous said...

So nice to see your Christmas memories from Scotland! When we first came here in 1992, I was surprised to learn that it was only fairly recently that Christmas was a public holiday. New Year's, on the other hand, was still a very major occasion with festivities going on for at least a few days, and much "first-footing" happening.

We were told that the post-Reformation Protestant church in Scotland didn't think that Christmas was a real Christian holiday, only Easter was. And that in the Free Church, that was to some extent still the case even in the 1990s.

When my daughter's primary class went on a trip to the Aberdeen City Archives, they were amazed to see the entry from a local Victorian schoolmaster in his ledger, for the children attending school on December 25th!

Candice Dennis said...

It was nice to enjoy hearing about your Christmas in Scotland! I love hearing how resourceful you were. I remember making salt dough ornaments as a child, but have not made them with my children. You've inspired me to try it this week! Merry Christmas to you all!