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Scottish Wedding Traditions: An In-Depth Guide

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The Scots are known for their numerous wedding traditions which are unique, interesting, and lots of fun, so if you’re interested in tying the knot in the glorious Celtic country – or at least would like to incorporate a few Scottish wedding traditions into your big day – stay tuned.

Many of the Scottish wedding traditions stem from Celtic or Gaelic acts of creating good luck and prosperity for the happy couple; and these are just some of our favourite ones.

Read More: Celtic Handfasting: A Tradition for Your Scotland Wedding


20 Unique Scottish Wedding Traditions

While most Scottish weddings won’t feature all of these traditions, you can incorporate as many as you please into yours.

 


Right Foot Forward

We’ve all heard the expression “put your right foot forward”, but did you know this actually stemmed from an old-school Scottish wedding tradition?

It quite literally involves putting one’s right foot forward to welcome good luck into the happy couple’s new life together. When the bride leaves her home and the church or wedding venue, she is supposed to step out of the door with her right foot first in order to welcome good luck.


Sixpence in the Shoe

Back in the day, on the morning of the wedding, the father of the bride would place a sixpence in the bride’s shoe as a token of good luck and prosperity for the new marriage.

Nowadays, sixpences are no longer a part of Scottish/British currency, but can be purchased online for this wedding tradition, with many brides opting to have the coin attached in the crook of her shoe heel for purposes of comfort.


Tying the Knot

Otherwise known as ‘handfasting’.

If you’ve ever wondered why getting hitched is sometimes referred to as “tying the knot”, it’s because it dates back to this Scottish wedding tradition.

In fact, it dates as far back as Mediaeval times. This tradition involves having a strip of cloth (if you want to go super Scottish – it should, of course, be tartan) tied over one of the bride and groom’s hands, binding them together loosely. The bride and groom will then pull away from each other, which causes the knot to tighten, and is symbolic of everlasting kinship (at least, in modern times, it does).

Historically, this ritual was far less romantic and was initiated in favour of the groom. If the wife wasn’t able to produce a child within one year of the ceremony, he would legally be allowed a divorce; no questions asked!

Read More: 15 Scottish Wedding Blessings & How to Write Your Own 

virgin hotel edinburgh wedding kara and mark greyfriars hall ceremony tying the knot handfasting

 

Photograph by Wildling Weddings at Kara and Mark’s Wedding at Virgin Hotels


Footwashing

In almost all cultures, purity has played a key role in weddings – particularly on the subject of the bride.

This tradition originated in the Fife area of Scotland and involves the bride having her feet washed by a senior member of her family to encourage “purity”, as well as garnering good fortune and luck during the upcoming marriage.


Kilts

Nothing is more quintessentially Scottish than kilts, so naturally, they play a big part in Scottish weddings. 

Not only are the groom and his groomsmen expected to wear kilts of the same tartan (of which the design belongs to the groom’s family/ancestry), the bride is expected to incorporate some of the tartan into her attire too, or at least her bouquet. Male guests will often wear kilts too, as it is encouraged.


Wedding Scramble

In many cultures, coins are symbolic of good luck and the beckoning of good wealth, and in Scottish weddings, the wedding “scramble” usually takes place after the bride has stepped out of the wedding cart (or in modern times, car) and before she enters the church to be wed, her father throws handfuls of coins for guests to the scramble for. 

This is one of the oldest Scottish wedding traditions and is often still adhered to today – mostly for the enjoyment of child guests.


Paying the Piper

No Scottish wedding is complete without at least one piper, and bagpipes are usually played during the post-ceremony procession walk, as well as during the first dance.

However, the tradition of “paying the piper” stems from when the bride and groom have completed the ceremonial part of the wedding and are walking to their dinner/wedding feast. 

Old Celtic legend believed that the playing of pipes during this part of the day kept evil spirits away and would protect the happy couple’s pending marriage years, as well as bringing good luck.

The “paying” part of this Scottish wedding tradition references the need for the piper’s work to be legitimate and paid (via a dram of whisky), which “sealed” the contract of his services; he is then toasted by the groom and thanked for his work.


Having a Dram

Speaking of drams of whisky, another popular Scottish wedding tradition involves “blessing the union” by having a dram of whisky from a ceremonial Quaich (a shallow silver bowl with two handles), which is often given to the couple as a wedding gift and is inscribed with the wedding date.

Traditionally, the Quaich would be filled with whisky and the nuptials are sealed by both the bride and groom taking a swig from the dish before dinner, and then is passed around for whoever else wanted a sip (a dram). Nowadays, if the couple in question don’t favour whisky, it can be filled with a beverage of their choice, including champagne, tea, or even Irn-Bru!

The reason this tradition involves a Quaich (instead of a glass, goblet, or cup) is because the two handles are symbolic of the uniting of two “clans” – who may not always have been on good terms – and if one party or the other were taking their dram, they would need to hold the container with two hand, preventing them from being able to grab a weapon! This would then initiate trust and respect for both clans.


Luckenbooth

In traditional Scottish weddings, the bride was often given a Luckenbooth brooch (either bought new or handed down), as well as a ring. 

A luckenbooth brooch is a smallish piece of silver jewellery which features two interlocking hearts with a crown on top. Wealthier families may have had brooches encrusted with precious or semi-precious gems. The brooch is given to the bride by the groom as a symbol of his love, as well as a good luck amulet (and also said to scare off evil spirits!).


The Wedding Walk

The wedding walk is the formal walk of the wedding party to the church. Traditionally, it would involve a fiddler leading the party, followed by the groom and the maid of honour, then the bride and the best man. The wedding walk also is (or was) supposed to feature walking through or by flowing water twice.

It is said that if the party encountered a pig or a funeral procession on their walk, that it foretold bad luck, and the party would need to head back and start from the beginning.


Wedding Sark

The wedding sark is the simple exchanging of gifts (traditionally, items of clothing) between the bride and the groom.

In traditional Scottish weddings, the bride’s wedding dress would be paid for by the groom and the groom’s attire covered by the bride (or her family), or at least the sark (the shirt).


Thistles & Heather

The bride’s bouquet in Celtic wedding traditions will often include thistles and heather. Thistles have been a prominent part of Scottish culture since the 1200s, and in weddings, represent durability and devotion. 

Heather is associated with good luck in many old folklorian dogma, and therefore is often included within the wedding bouquet, or in the form of a small brooch on the bride’s dress.


The Speerin

The tradition of the speerin may well have been the origins of what’s now commonly known as stag or bachelor parties.

In olden Scottish days, the groom would need to undergo a series of challenging tasks and trials in order to impress and “prove his worth” to his pending father-in-law.


Ceilidh

As one of the more fun and lighthearted Scottish wedding traditions (which have nothing to do with luck or evil spirits!), Ceilidh is a post-wedding dance that features upbeat Gaelic music and involves couples (traditionally it would be between four to eight couples) creating a dance formation to jig.


Pinning the Tartan

If you thought you’d seen the last of the tartan – think again!

Another popular Scottish wedding tradition is “pinning the tartan”, which involves a rosette or crest, which is pinned to the tartan of either the bride or groom by a member of the opposite family to whomever is receiving the pin, as a symbol of welcoming him or her into their family.


Oathing Stone

Most would-be married couples in their right minds want their future days of wedlock to be strong and sturdy, and what better way to symbolise that than with a stone?

Over the years, this tradition has morphed and changed variations. One includes the bride and groom placing their hand over a stone while reading their vows. Another involves getting married in a stony area (many traditional Scottish weddings featured a ceremony outdoors as well as in a church. More on that in a minute.).

Nowadays, couples have their own oathing stone, which has their names carved into it, as well as the wedding date. It is usually gifted to the couple by a friend or family member.


2-For-1 Ceremonies

As we just mentioned, Scots often traditionally would have not one, but two, wedding ceremonies – one in a church and one in an outdoor area, which would be a Gaelic part of the ceremony.


The Caim

This is an old Celtic tradition which involves the couple drawing a circle around themselves to symbolise and strengthen their unity, while saying an old blessing that goes along the lines of:

The Mighty Three, my protection be, encircle me.

You are around my life, my love, my home.

Encircle me. O sacred three, the Mighty

Thee.   


Auld Lang Syne

It’s not just on Christmas and New Year’s that the Scots love to warble this wee classic, but weddings too often feature this tune.

In fact, more often than not, it’s usually the last song of the night to be played/sung, which usually gets everyone up for one final toast and shuffle!


The Lang Reel

Arguably the most adorable Scottish wedding tradition is the Lang Reel, which symbolises the end of the wedding festivities.

This one tends to only work if you’re getting married in your hometown, but variations can of course, be enacted wherever you get married. At the end of the night, the guests and wedding party all make a reel and dance their way through the village, each member peeling off when they reach their home, eventually leaving just the happy couple to have a little dance together on their own. Awww!


Scottish Wedding Traditions FAQs

What do Scottish brides walk down the aisle to?

Traditional Celtic music is quite popular for Scottish brides to walk down the aisle to. Some of the most popular options include:
-Skye Boat Song.
-Heights of Dargai.
-Highland Cathedral.
-Ye Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon.
-Red is the Rose.

What is Scottish handfasting?

Handfasting is another name for the traditional “tying the knot” ceremony, which involves a strip of fabric, cord, ribbon, beads, or even rope or dog leads (yes, really!), to tie the bride and groom’s hands together to initiate the binding of the ceremony.

What do Scottish Brides wear?

A Scottish bride will wear a gown of her choosing (often a traditional white wedding dress), which will have the groom’s family’s clan tartan featured by way of a shawl, sash, headdress, or corsage. 

What are the common elements to a traditional Scottish wedding?

Almost all traditional Scottish weddings will feature the handfasting ceremony, bagpipes, and tartan kilts.

Should non-Scots wear kilts to Scottish weddings?

All male guests are encouraged to wear kilts to a wedding; whether or not they are Scottish. As long as it is done so respectfully and not in a mocking or cultural appropriation type way.

Why do some women wear a tartan sash on their wedding day?

A bride wearing the clan tartan of her husband-to-be represents her being welcomed into the new clan.


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