Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland

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Three Chairs (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

We leave soon, traveling to spend the holidays with family elsewhere.  I won’t be blogging while gone, of course, but want to leave with a Scotland holiday theme.  The above photo was used on my Christmas cards and I thought it perfect to begin this post.  Seeking Christmas customs in Scotland I found a website called “The Christmas Archives” by countess Maria Hubert von Staufer.  Here, I found a delightful page titled Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland.  I’ll share some of the passages with photos from some Scotland abbeys and cathedrals as my Christmas gift to you.

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Iona Abbey Window (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“The name “Yuletide” comes from the Scandinavians, for whom ‘Yultid’ was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month, being the twelfth name of Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in a hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins. (Strains of Father Christmas here!)

Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The custom was to celebrate the Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the festivities began a few days later, and spilled into New Year and Twelfth Night, which was known as ‘Little Christmas’. However, the French often called Christmas colloquially, ‘Homme est né’ (Man is Born) which is thought by some scholars to be the origin of the word, ‘Hogmanay’, steaming from the time of the ‘Auld Alliance’.”  (The Christmas Archives)

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Stained Glass (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle at Christmastime to light the way of a stranger.

In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a ‘Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you’.”  (The Christmas Archives)

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Door of St. Magnus (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“It was and still is the custom for a stranger to enter the house after midnight on New Years Eve/Day. There were taboos about the luck such a stranger would bring, especially in the days of hospitality to travelling strangers. A fair haired visitor was considered bad luck in most areas, partly due to the in-fighting between the dark scots and the fair Norse invaders. However, in Christian times, a fair haired man was considered very lucky providing his name was Andrew! Because St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland. A woman is considered taboo still in many areas!

The Firstfooter must make an offering, a HANDSEL. This can be food, drink or fuel for the fire. The ritual which have grown up around this custom are many. An offering of food or drink must be accepted by sharing it with everyone present, including the visitor. Fuel, must be placed onto the fire by the visitor with the words ‘A Good New Year to one and all and many may you see’. In todays often fireless society the fuel is usually presented as a polished piece of coal, or wood which can be preserved for the year as an ornament.”  (The Christmas Archives)

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Italian Chapel (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Black Bun. Originally Twelfth Night Cake. It is a very rich fruit cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients are bound together with plenty of Whiskey. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.

This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy from Scotland’s close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the center and symmetrical lines around, representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on the modern Scottish Shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked onto the shortbread!”  (The Christmas Archives)

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Celtic Cross at Iona (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

I wish each and every one of you a blessed and peaceful Christmas and send hope for the New Year.  As they say in Scottish Gaelic, Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

Urquhart Castle

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Urquhart Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

You’ve likely seen this castle in countless images of Loch Ness and the hunt for the illusive Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.  From its perch high above Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is now a ruin of what was once an imposing and important castle.  Urquhart witnessed considerable conflict throughout its 500 years as a medieval fortress and its history from the 13th to 17th centuries was particularly bloody. Following Edward I’s invasion, it fell into English hands and was then reclaimed and lost again. In the 14th century, it figured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots. (Historic Scotland)

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Urquhart Castle moat (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Before touring the castle itself we were treated to an excellent dramatic film of its bloody history in the new visitor center.  When the film was done the screen lifted and a wall opened to reveal a large glass window through which the castle was seen.  It was so well done, with such feeling and mood, we were fully prepared to see the castle and feel the horrors it felt.

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The Oldest Wall (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Urquhart’s history begins around 580AD when St. Columba stopped through on his journey from Iona to Inverness.  As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household.  (Historic Scotland)  We had already visited Iona and learned about St. Columba so this tie-in to history created another wrinkle in my brain.

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Floorplan (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Like most castles, Urquhart was built in sections and changed many times over its thousand year history.  The section toward the top of the image is the oldest and the section where you see the people walking was the newer wing.  As you can see, the castle was completely destroyed, leaving only a few stone walls.

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Urquhart Main Hall (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Traveling to ancient lands is a humbling experience.  Standing in a place such as Urquhart Castle, imagining the people who walked here, lived here, worked here and died here over a thousand years puts Life into perspective.  Wincing at the media’s outpouring of rubbish each day and worrying about this bill or that crazy senator or Wall Street nonsense, I’m reminded while writing this blog, inserting photos of these incredibly old places that older countries and ancient peoples have seen much, much more.  I’m humbly reminded that our day-to-day is just that.  Life will go on.  Today’s castles will fall, too.

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Window to the World (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Most history:  From the 13th century, until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English.

Soon after the English threat evaporated the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst. The Islesmen got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats.  (Historic Scotland)

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Timeless (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

When the last soldiers marched out in 1692, they blew it up. The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 19th century the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles.  (Historic Scotland)

I cannot describe the feeling in my soul when I think about my trip to Scotland.  This trip changed me forever in a very, very good way.  I can’t find any Scottish roots in my history, but I’m convinced this is where I began.

John O’ Groats, Scotland

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John O’ Groats (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

3,100  miles from New York City, John O’ Groats is the second northernmost point in Scotland.  Yes, they’ll say they are the most northern point, but that honor actually goes to Dunnet Head a few miles east of this point.

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The Inn at John O’ Groats (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

The Inn at John O’Groats is the an imitation of the iconic former John O’Groats hotel that was originally built in 1875. This hotel is part of Natural Retreats’ multi-million pound regeneration of this picturesque natural wilderness in Caithness in the North of Scotland.  After extensive renovations and additions, the hotel re-opened in September of 2013.  Over the last two years the hotel has been restored and a new Norse style rental flats added which provides a dramatic splash of color against the coastal landscape.  (From John O’ Groats official website)

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Bay of Duncansby (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

There isn’t much to John O’ Groats, which is part of the appeal.  One of Scotland’s main walking trails, which criss-cross the better part of the UK, go through the town and continue eastward along the waterway.  Stroma, and island between John O’ Groats and the Orkney Islands.  Our guide invited one of the local businessmen to come aboard our coach and give us a talk about the town so we could hear the distinctive dialect of the area.  Our guide, a scholar from Edinburgh who was born in west Highlands, said he could only listen to this dialect for a short amount of time before holding his ears.  In jest, of course.  There is tremendous pride in Scotland – district as well as for the country overall.  Intense pride.  The Scottish people are as delightful as the countryside.  I’m in enamored with Scotland.

Awakening

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Pink Perfection (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

There is something about a beach that is everlasting.  The ocean is always moving.  Currents and winds and swimming beasties and the moon and tides and our beautiful planet revolving on its axis and a myriad of actions serve to create the moment you see above.

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Patterns (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Crashing waves, swirling eddies, and gentle foamy water washes deposit shells, bits of flotsam, fossils, minerals, coral and the debris of the eons creating nature’s abstracts.

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Finale (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Clouds fight for the eye’s attentions as the sunrise wakens the beach and pelicans begin their morning foraging.

A Walk Through A Wood

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Xeric Sandhill Scrub

A late afternoon walk through Carolina Beach State Park revealed wonders.  I’m reticent to walk by myself in parks and wilderness.  Too many stories float through my head which gives me pause and lends caution to  my steps.  However, this one trail, called the Flytrap Trail, is short and loops close to the parking area.  The habitat is a Pine Savannah, one of a dozen different habitats in the small park.  My short walk took me through three…that I recognized, or think I did.  This is home to the mighty longleaf pine.  Needles of a longleaf pine can reach 18 inches in length.  These amazing feathery needles are beautiful and soft.  The park service regularly burns the area, as burns discourage hardwood growth, incourages pine and other softwoods, as well as the carnivorous plants and grasses that make up the undergrowth.

IMG_5281_20141204_CBStatePark_1000x667Yellow Pitcher Plant

The Venus Flytraps are not out at this time of year, but I found a waning yellow pitcher plant, which is endangered and protected under NC Law.

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The walk was pleasant.  Flat, sandy, dry soil with small scrub and some grasses is called Xeric Sandhill Scrub habitat.  It is very distinctive – a lovely open feeling.  This time of year the small hardwood oaks glow bright red in the lowering light.  “Xeric” means dry.

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Sense of Place

This trail is so flat and easy and short that it is deemed handicapped accessible.  Wide trails, easily marked, weaving in and out of longleaf pine, grasses, stubby oaks and the occasional live oak, brought the woods back into my senses.  The beach is nice, but I crave woods.

IMG_5303_20141204_CBStatePark_1000x667Grasses at the base of a small live oak, with pines

Live oaks are called “live” because they are evergreen.  However, these live oaks nestled within the pine savannah of Carolina Beach State Park are largely denuded of leaves, which I can only think must be due to the frequent burns.  They are very much alive and thriving.

IMG_5311_20141204_CBStatePark_1000x667Swamp within a pine savannah

Towards the end of the short trail a sturdy boardwalk take you right through a small swamp.  Mossy rocks, autumn leaves, mossy bases of trees, twisted roots, lots of birdsong.  I love me a good swamp.

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Pine Savannah meets Coastal Fringe Evergreen Forest

That’s the best ID I can do on this area without proper guidance by a Ranger or park attendant.  My interpretation of the state park’s beautifully done exhibit within their building.  This short walk whetted my appetite for more and opened up something inside of me I’ve been missing.  Apologies to anyone who truly understands this environment if I miss-identified a habitat but I’m learning.  And it feels good.

Seeking My Path

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Seeking My Path (c) 2014 by Debi Bradford

What began as a blooming blog has withered into a dried up old seed pod.  Rattling around the winter winds of cyberspace, this little blog has gotten lost in the windswept fertile acreage of the growing minds of others and their artful wordage.  Lurking amid those tall, wavy, grassy words and actions of others I find myself silent and still and virtually dead.

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Stillness (c) 2014 by Debi Bradford

My time has been frantically spent of late.  Traveling, entertaining, going, coming, hosting, cleaning, doing….running about.  While it’s been enjoyable there hasn’t been much time for reflection.  Or writing.  Or mindful photographing.  Or spiritual reading and thinking.  What I would like to do is find once again my Place.  My Path.  My Purpose.  I seem to have lost it … but I know it’s here somewhere.

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Foundation (c) 2014 by Debi Bradford

I admire so artists of all types – writers, painters, bloggers, chefs, gardeners, photographers – who have it all together, or seem to.  I admire as well those Spiritual Beings who grace this planet and write prose that make me weep, make me think, give me hope, chart a direction for they are artists, too.  My own spirituality and artistic urges have gotten lost in the Busyness.  Without them I feel empty, and not a little cranky.

End of the Island

End of the Island (c) by Debi Bradford

Mind, I’m not complaining for my life is rich with the love of family and friends, the love of nature and photography, the love of creating and the gift of Joy.  As happens with each of us I’m finding myself in a bit of a rut.  Or perhaps better put, I find myself at the ocean’s edge awaiting my ship for it’s time to seek a new path, a new direction, and open my mind to new possibilities.  Yes.  That sounds much, much better.

Paris, France

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Architectural Detail, Paris

 

I rather unexpectedly fell into serious like with Paris.  I”m not much of a city gal but I found Paris to be charming and quaint for its size.  The people were very friendly (for the most part) but the main draw for me was its architecture.

 

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Because Paris wasn’t bombed during the war, it continues to carry its original charm on its sleeve like a well worn corsage.  Every turn of the corner revealed something simply grand showing just how much love was put into this city as it was being built.

 

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Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days

 

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Carousel at the foot of Sacré-Cœur Basilica

 

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Museum signage

 

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Paris oozed charm.

Unlike London, there are no towering modern glass skyscrapers, no new odd architecture to contrast with the original designs.  Where London was overwhelming Paris was charming.  Make no mistake, I love London.  However, this my first trip to Paris I was enlightened by the City of Light and enjoyed my stay there tremendously.

Tower of London Remembers

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

We just returned from a month in London with side trips to Paris and Wales.  My hands-down favorite place in London is the Tower of London.  Since my last trip to London in 1986 this historical iconic site is now framed by modern buildings.  Offices across from the Thames are all glass in odd shapes, and reminds me a lot of downtown Dallas.  The sight created within me a dichotomy of emotions.  On the one hand, I’m at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge with all that bloody history, and overlooking it all are these slick, glass buildings that reflect the history away, acting as though it never existed.  That’s just the way it struck me.

 

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Sea of Red Poppies (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The Tower of London is in the process of installing an exhibit called Tower of London Remembers the First World War.  888,246 ceramic poppies are being placed all around the Tower of London in what used to be the moat.  This number represents the number of Commonwealth fatalities during World War I.

 

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The Tower Bleeds (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Ceramic artist Paul Cummins and Stage Designer Tom Piper were commissioned to create the exhibit.  Volunteers began placing the poppies August 5th.  The last poppy will be placed on November 11, 2014.  After the exhibit is over poppies can be purchased with proceeds going to charities.  Google the Tower Of London for details.

 

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A Volunteer Places a Poppy (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The exhibit can be best seen from walkways on Tower Hill surrounding the Tower of London.  It was very crowded the day we visited.  However, except for low murmurs and the clicking of cameras observers were quiet and reflective.  It is quite a sight, hundreds of thousands of red poppies pouring out of the tower and pooling around its base.  One poppy per Life Lost.  Let that sink in as you look at these images.

 

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The Tower and the Poppies (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Each day in the moat at sundown the names of 180 Commonwealth troops killed during World War I are read aloud as part of the Roll of Honor.  I’ve never seen a more moving display.

 

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Closeup of Poppies (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

888,246 poppies = 888,246 lives lost in World War I by the British Commonwealth.

Wild Geese

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Opal Sunrise Copyright 2014 by Debi Bradford

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

From Dream Work by Mary Oliver

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Sea Oats Copyright 2014 by Debi Bradford