If you are looking for a traditional Christmas, Scotland has just about everything you could want. A deep reverence and emphasis on faith provide the religious elements. The pristine, snowy Highlands offer the perfect backdrop for an ideal white Christmas. A strong emphasis on family makes for festive and memorable holiday gatherings. Add Scottish pride in tradition, and it seems like Scotland is the perfect place to celebrate the season.
While that may be the case for this year’s holiday revelers, it probably wasn’t for their parents or grandparents. Christmas was officially banned in Scotland for four centuries and only became a public holiday in 1958.
Although Christmas was celebrated in Scotland, beginning around A.D. 400 and the days of St. Ninian, the holiday did not remain in favor. In addition to the religious feast day of December 25, the Scots celebrated an entire season known as Yuletide. This began with mid-winter, went through Christmas, and ended with Hogmanay, making much of December into one continuous party.
When the Protestant Reformation took hold in the 1560s, the Church of Scotland cast a suspicious eye toward anything that seemed pagan or Roman Catholic in nature. The powerful church exercised its influence to throw cold water on the Yuletide partying.
The opposition to Christmas reached its peak in 1640 when the Scottish Parliament passed the “Act Dischargeing the Yule Vacance.” It said:
The king and queen’s majesties, considering that the keeping of the Yule vacance hath been a great interruptione to the course of justice in this kingdome, to the hinderance and heavie prejudice of the leidges thereof, therefore they, with and by the advice of the estates of parliament, have discharged and simply discharges the forsaid Yule vacance and all observatione thereof in tyme comeing, and rescinds and annulls all acts, statuts, warrands and ordinances whatsomever granted any tyme heretofore for keeping of the said Yule vacance, with all custome of observation thereof, and finds and declares the same to be void and extinct and of noe force nor effect in tyme comeing. And ordaines the court and sessione of the colledge of justice and senators and members thereof to conveine and sitt for the administratione of justice, without any interruptione by the forsaid Yule vacance, from the first day of November to the last of February inclusive, yearly, and ordaines the saids senators and remanent members of the colledge of justice to rise the said last day of February and to conveine and sitt down againe for administratione of justice to the leidges the first day of June, yearly, and to rise the last day of July next thereafter inclusive. And alsoe ordaines the whole remanent judges of inferiour courts within the kingdome to proceed in the administratione of justice within their severall jurisdictions without any respect to the said Yule vacance and without any interruptione or vacatione by the same Yule vacance, notwithstanding of any bygone custome of observatione of the said Yule vacance seeing the samen is now discharged in manner forsaid.
— At Edinburgh, July 19, 1640The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2022), 1690/4/113.
In short, Christmas was no longer a public holiday. All businesses and government offices that previously closed were directed to remain open. This law remained on the books for over three hundred years. It wasn’t until 1958 that December 25 became a Scottish public holiday again.
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