At Gleddoch Hotel and Spa, we are proud to call Scotland home. Ours is a country filled with history and tradition which adds to our unique identity, ranging from the ways in which we cook our food to the passion and patriotism we display at sporting events.
One of the many details of Scottish culture is the unique wedding customs that we employ. At Gleddoch, our picturesque setting and luxury facilities have made us a popular venue for tying the knot, which means we’ve witnessed countless Scottish wedding traditions at work. In this guide, we’re going to introduce you to 20 of our favourites; whether it’s the horseshoe tradition or one of the many Scottish dances, you’ll find plenty of inspiration for your special day right here.
1. Traditional Scottish Wedding Gifts
To start with, we will look at gift-giving traditions rather than those relating to the ceremony itself. Giving gifts to the bride and groom is something which occurs all across the world but the Scottish do have some unusual choices which you may want to include in your own celebration.
2. The Wedding Sark
The Wedding Sark is one of the more unique wedding gift traditions because it is gifted from the bride to the groom, rather than from a relative or family member to the couple. The sark itself is the shirt worn by the groom during the wedding and traditionally, this is paid for by the bride. In return, the groom will pay for the bride’s wedding dress – an exchange of attire for the special day.
The wedding sark tradition is simple enough to achieve, making a great starting point if you want your day to feel as Scottish as possible.
3. The Luckenbooth
The Luckenbooth is a brooch which is usually gifted from groom to bride before the wedding as a show of love and dedication to the marriage. The brooch is traditionally made of silver and regularly incorporates heart symbols or engravings, as you’d expect of a wedding gift between the betrothed. Another simple gift option to make your day feel inherently Scottish.
As another slice of trivia, the Luckenbooth is also meant to make an appearance after the birth of the couple’s first newborn, where it is pinned to the child’s blanket as a token of good luck.
Some regions of Scotland, particularly in the North East, have a Scottish wedding tradition where the best man gifts the couple a clock as a token of good luck. Potentially, this is to symbolise a marriage that will last for years to come.
5. Tea Sets
In the same way as the best man gifts clocks, the Maid of Honour is often expected to gift a tea set. The exact reasoning behind this tradition isn’t clear, though it could be to ensure that even after the union, the couple has what they need to provide for friends, family and relatives if they visit.
Traditional Scottish Wedding Customs
Having looked at the most prominent gifts, we can now delve into the many Scottish wedding traditions when tying the knot. Hopefully, these will inspire you to create the wedding you’ve always wanted.
6. Creeling the Bridegroom
Traditionally, this custom was very physically challenging for the groom, depending on how sympathetic his betrothed was. Creeling the Bridegroom involves the groom carrying a large basket of rocks and walking through or around the village, though, he would have to continue walking until his fiancée came out of her house and kissed him. This would usually occur the day before the wedding, though the tradition is less common now.
The modern version of this tradition involves a basket of rocks being tied to the church door using ribbon. The couple would cut the ribbon on their wedding day, dropping the stones to the ground in the process and, in turn, granting themselves health and prosperity in the future.
This is a great choice if you want to hail back to classic traditions, even if they aren’t as common today.
Kilts are one of the most iconic parts of traditional Scottish attire and are instantly recognisable, playing a major role in the Scottish identity. This is predominantly because of the tartan designs which they feature, another important aspect of historical Scottish society.
Scottish treat kilts with their family’s tartan colours as formalwear, meaning that the groom, as well as most major male figures at a Scottish wedding, should be wearing their kilt. If the groom or his party don’t have Scottish heritage but still want to wear a kilt, they can opt to choose a tartan design from some of the most common options, it’s just a matter of exploring what is available and making a choice.
Regardless, any serious Scottish wedding needs kilts to complete it.
Primarily occurring in the North East of Scotland, blackening is a wedding custom that usually takes place before the wedding day rather than after the ceremony itself. During the blackening, friends and relatives of the couple will capture them, cover them in an assortment of messy, adhesive items and then parade them through the streets for all to see.
There are huge variations in this Scottish wedding tradition depending on location and preference. Some choose to just conduct the blackening on the groom, others strip the groom before beginning and the list of items stuck to the couple can be endless, from treacle and fruit to feathers and flour. This tradition is extremely old and has no distinct origin, though is probably tied to other wedding traditions like the washing. All we know is that it is now more of a game than a sombre or serious affair, though, make sure everyone involved has agreed to take part before you begin.
9. Sixpence in the Shoe
Particularly popular in Aberdeenshire and Angus, the Sixpence in the Shoe tradition is specifically for the bride. The tradition states that the father of the bride should place a silver sixpence into his daughter’s shoe. This is meant to serve as a good luck charm, ensuring prosperity throughout her marriage to come.
One of the best parts about this Scottish wedding custom is that it is much more personal than many of the others mentioned. On the wedding day, things can become hectic and busy, leaving little time for earnest conversations and special moments in private. Placing the coin in the shoe is the perfect opportunity for father and daughter to take a little time, alone, to reflect and be together before the big day gets underway.
A subtle but great choice for any Scottish wedding.
10. The Penny Wedding
A penny wedding is a simple idea that will probably appeal to most betrothed couples. Briefly put, during a penny wedding, the guests to the wedding bring food or a financial contribution to help pay for the festivities. The idea behind this is that if friends and family make personal contributions it will allow for a grander ceremony and celebration.
Dating back to the 19th Century, these weddings were common in rural Scotland as celebrations could occur over multiple days, could even leave the newly-weds with excess money. In short, they could make a profit from their own wedding – it’s hard to see a downside when you put it like that. Convincing friends and family that this is a traditional Scottish wedding custom might be a challenge though so it’s essential to always consult guests.
11. Pinning the Tartan
The pinning of the tartan is a tradition which occurs at the end of the wedding ceremony after the couple has been officially married. The pinning of the tartan holds the most weight in all Scottish weddings but can take place in other ceremonies too. This custom focuses on the unification of clans, symbolised by pinning a rosette or sash of each individual’s clan on the other party. It’s simple and meaningful, with a distinctly Scottish feel.
Bagpipes are one of those instruments that people can’t help but associate with Scotland, which explains why it’s our national instrument. Having pipers at any wedding instantly gives it a more traditional feel, hailing back to classic customs and songs that were played in years long past.
13. The Grand March
There are many traditional Scottish dances, each with their own unique traits and flairs. The Grand March is one of the most famous, having seen a lot of use throughout the mid-to-late 1800s during wedding ceremonies.
Typically, the Grand March is the first dance that occurs during the wedding. A live band, complete with bagpipes, of course, begins playing a tune and the bride and groom face each. Following some predetermined steps, they complete the dance and repeat. Each time they repeat, more people join in, including the best man, the maid of honour, the families of the newly-weds and then the other guests. It’s inclusive, fun and extremely Scottish. You can’t go wrong.
14. The Wedding Scramble
The wedding scramble is still a very common Scottish wedding tradition and can be included in your special day quite easily. As the bride is leaving the church and stepping into her car or vehicle of choice, the father of the bride throws coins out of the window. These coins are for the children to scramble over and collect, hence the name of the wedding custom. Typically, this tradition is thought to bring good luck and prosperity to the newly-wed couple – a harmless and fun addition to any wedding.
15. The Quaich
A quaich is a two-handled cup. The design is traditionally Scottish and the name comes from the Gaelic word ‘cuach’ which means ‘cup’. The quaich sees use in Scottish weddings as a method of unifying families and welcoming one another’s newfound bond. The groom’s parents begin by handing the quaich, filled with a dram of brandy or whisky, to the bride – who drinks from it. Afterwards, the same is repeated, except the quaich is given to the groom by the bride’s parents. This traditional can also be extended to the families themselves, where everyone drinks from the cup in a show of unification.
Other than acquiring the alcohol itself, this is far from an expensive tradition and can create a lasting memory and goodwill between families.
16. The Rèiteach
The rèiteach is the Scottish take on asking the bride’s father for permission to marry her. This tradition has seen use in plenty of cultures around the world but the rèiteach has its own unique traits, unlike other countries.
In many cases, the rèiteach would involve the groom’s friend asking for the bride’s hand in marriage, rather than the groom himself. Additionally, he would not refer to the bride by name, but by her family’s trade. For example, if she were from a family of beef farmers, the bride may be referred to as a ‘calf’.
Mostly, the rèiteach is just a traditional formality and everyone takes part with smiles on their faces. Once successful, all parties meet and food and drink are served in celebration. This is a great way of starting your wedding in a typically Scottish manner.
17. The Bridescake
The bridescake is a baked good, typically a scone or shortbread, which is snapped over the bride’s head as she enters the church or wedding venue. Most commonly, this would be baked and performed by the bride’s mother, after which the guests would rush to try and pick up part of the scone or treat. This was believed to bring good luck, both to the people that managed to eat a piece of the bridescake and to the couple themselves.
Starting Your Wedding on the Right Foot
Short and simple, this is a more subtle Scottish wedding custom. Traditionally, all parties, particularly the betrothed, would look to leave the home and enter the venue leading with their right foot. This was thought to bring good luck to the couple. Whilst not as flashy or bold as some of the other wedding traditions, this choice can be a little one to keep in the back of your mind to help make that day a little more Scottish.
18. Feet Washing
Occurring across Scotland but particularly in Fife and Dundee and Angus, feet washing is a common wedding tradition. This might be linked to ensuring the bride is clean or pure and typically, an older married woman in the community or wedding party will wash and dry the bride’s feet as she sits on a stall. The only rule is that this should occur before the ceremony rather than after. If you have someone in mind to help complete this custom, let them know beforehand.
19. Heather in the Bouquet
The wedding bouquet is a very recognisable part of any marriage ceremony. Popular films and media have immortalised the tradition of throwing the bouquet over the brides’ shoulder to be caught by the unmarried women in the party, symbolising who would be married next. However, in Scottish tradition, one of the most familiar features of the wedding bouquet is the presence of heather.
Heather is a wild plant, rich in earthy colours and vibrance which grows all across Scotland. This link with the Scottish identity has made heather a popular addition to any Scottish wedding, particularly in rural settings where it can be plucked fresh from the ground. An affordable and eye-catching choice.
20. The Lang Reel
To conclude, the Lang Reel is another traditional Scottish wedding dance. Traditionally, this would involve the entire wedding party and guests, where the participants would dance through the town and villagers would leave as they reached their homes, slowly thinning the crowd at the end of the evening. This would continue until the newly-weds were left, after which they could enjoy a final dance alone as a couple.
Choose Gleddoch Hotel & Spa for Your Wedding Venue
These wedding traditions are some of the most popular and obscure in Scottish history. At Gleddoch, we are proud of our Scottish heritage and are constantly blessed by the incredible views and beautiful scenery that Scotland has gifted us with.
If you are interested in having a traditional wedding in the heart of the Scottish lowlands, learn more about our extensive wedding facilities and beautiful rooms today. Alternatively, get in touch with our dedicated team and we will endeavour to offer bespoke advice tailored to your needs.