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Christmas in Scotland

Nollaig Chridheil (pronounced nollik hree-el) - that's Merry Christmas in Scottish Gaelic.

What is Christmas in Scotland really like? The following article was written by a young Scotswoman willing to share with Americans how the Scots celebrate Christmas.

A Real Scottish Christmas

Dear Americans.

I have entitled this article "A Real Scottish Christmas" and I hope that it gives interested people some insight into how the average Scot spends the festive season. Personally, I'm spending this year snowboarding in France, but for the majority of Scots stuck with it, here's how it goes:

Christmas shopping in Scotland: Apart from the supermarket "Christmas Savings Stamps", which start earlier, this now starts just before Hallowe'en, when the shops start filling up with a variety of gift ideas. The big out of town shopping centres tend to start their decorations earliest, but keen to attract shoppers to town centres, which are losing business to the out of town centres, local councils light up the streets and encourage shops to stay open later in competition. The bigger cities are now attempting a more classy look by putting fairy lights into the trees that are there all year round, while smaller towns tend to get multicoloured light bulbs into a big fir tree in the town centre. These get gradually smashed by young people in the run up to Christmas leaving one or two at the top by December 24th.

The advertising also gets into full swing round about Hallowe'en so that the children have plenty of time to drive their parents mad asking for the latest toys. Also in shopping centres Santa's Grottos appear, where children queue up to go in and ask Santa for what they want at Christmas, and get given a small toy.

Letters to Santa: Children at this time often start to make Christmas lists, which are lists of the presents they want. Some children send this list to 'Santa' in Lapland by one means or another. I was told that you could burn this on the fire and the list would go up the chimney and get to Santa that way. However my parents "living flame" fire was behind glass so that never really worked.

Decorating Houses: The next exciting thing that happens is that people start to decorate their houses. These decorations are getting gradually more outrageous as the years go by with the humble plastic tree and bits of tinsel strung across the ceiling being replaced by light up musical Santas climbing into windows and fake snow being rolled out across roofs. We don't tend to get real snow any more due to global warming (hence going to France). Children can join in the countdown by using advent calendars, which have little doors that you can open for every day in December with a little picture behind, ending on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve: The children are in a frenzy of excitement waiting for their presents. Practice at this point varies; I used to have big presents put under the Christmas tree to find in the morning as well as a stocking for smaller presents at the end of the bed for Santa to come and fill in the night ready for me to find in the morning. Some families used pillow cases instead of stockings, and some don't see the point of stockings at all and just go for the big presents. We eat ordinary food on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas day: Usually families will get together to open their presents and have a big Christmas lunch. Everyone looks hopefully out of the window to see if it will snow, and I remember it did once. Presents are unwrapped carefully so that the wrapping paper can be used again. Often dads and grandpas get socks. Lunch is usually turkey with all the trimmings and one or two glasses of wine or champagne. Pudding is usually a Christmas cake - some people who don't like fruit cake may have a Yule log, which is a chocolate cake from Sweden. Most people have Christmas crackers and eat their dinner wearing a paper crown. Following this the whole family get together in front of the TV and fall asleep in front of either:

1. "The Wizard of Oz" or
2. "The Sound of Music" or
3. "The Queen's Speech" (always at 3pm).

At tea time, our family liked to have a light supper of bread and butter and smoked salmon, and more crackers if there are any left.

Thus ends Christmas and we all wait for a few days until Hogmanay. (Ed. note: Hogmanay is New Year's)

Hogmanay is the time of year when children get to stay up until 12:00 am. It goes like this:

1. Sit up watching 'hoochter choochter' music on the telly and trying not to fall asleep. For many years a comedy show called 'Scotch and Wry' was shown, even for several years after the death of the main character. Now we have pictures of the tourists in the streets of Edinburgh.

2. Just before midnight, go to your neighbour's across the road, where they will be waiting with bowls of mixed nuts and a glass of wine. Some (generally older) people may at this point drink whiskey. Remember to take a lump of stone symbolising a piece of coal for good luck. This is called "First Footing".

3. At "the bells" (on the telly), everyone stands up and stands in a circle with their hands crossed, holding hands with the people on either side of them, and sings 'Auld Lang Syne' while feeling slightly embarrassed.

4. Stay for a bit to make an effort and then go home and climb gratefully into bed.

The younger and more adventurous may go round to more than one person's house and take them all a lump of stone, and will get drunk. If there are a lot of people about in the streets, everyone will wish each other a happy new year and kiss each other on the (usually) cheek. This is what used to happen in Edinburgh but can no longer because the whole town is full of tourists who don't know what to do and the people who live in Edinburgh aren't allowed across town without a ticket.

January the 2nd is also a Scottish holiday. However we have two less public holidays than England throughout the rest of the year to make up for it.

I hope you have enjoyed this little slice of Scottish life, and you have my best wishes for recreating it in America.

Merry Christmas!

Well, there you have it! Sounds like Americans and Scots don't differ too much in our ways of celebrating that most commercial of holidays - but as we say in America: "It's for the children."