When The Church Banned Christmas In Scotland

If you know a Scot, and have ever wondered why they make more of the New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) celebrations than they do of Christmas, here’s why:

Scots like any excuse to have a good party, but there’s a popular theory that they take to December 31st with so much gusto because for so long it was the only mid-winter celebration available – and that was because, for a time, Christmas was banned in Scotland.

The actual prohibition didn’t last too long. Following the Protestant Reformation, it was introduced by the 1640 Act of Parliament, but was brought back in 1686 – some years after the death of Oliver Cromwell. However, the Church of Scotland – a Presbyterian church – had discouraged ‘Yule’ celebrations since around 1583. The church believed that there was no basis for celebrating the day as it didn’t reflect what was in the bible. There are even records of some people being arrested over unlawful celebrations during the years it was officially banned.

It was therefore celebrated very quietly in Scotland and this remained the case until the 20th century. It only became a public holiday in 1958, with most of the public going about their daily routine on a day we now associate with the closure of almost every business and public service. Even after it became a holiday, Scots were not afforded the luxury to sleep off their hangovers for another 16 years: Boxing Day became a public holiday in 1974.

Allowing people to have a couple of days off to relax – drunken family arguments aside – along with differing attitudes toward the church have slowly altered the social culture, though it still has a long way to go to match Hogmanay hedonism!

In fact, here’s an example of one of the crazy ways Scots like to party at Hogmanay – the Loony Dook!

As written in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “It may be madness, but there’s method in it.” And there is too – the Loony Dook is all done for a good cause!

How are you planning to ring in the New Year this year?



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