Paying-the-Piper is a phrase that could have innumerable origins, and is known to refer to pipers leading troops to war, the idiom, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ and even perhaps to the myth of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. However, what is certain is that it also has a very specific meaning in traditional Scottish weddings. Scottish pipers have been around for centuries, and in fact after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 pipes were declared by the English as a weapon of war and the playing of bagpipes was banned in Scotland for the following 50 years.
Luckily today, the playing of bagpipes has much more romantic connotations. Many Scottish weddings have a piper; not only is it a beautiful Scottish tradition, it is also considered lucky, particularly when the bride and groom have completed their marriage ceremony and they are being piped into their dinner. The sound of the bagpipes was thought by many to keep away any evil spirits that may be hovering near by, and the piper’s music would protect the bride and groom as they entered into their marriage and bless their marriage with good luck. For this to be effective however, a kind of contact had to be observed; traditionally the piper was always paid for his services with a dram of whisky. Once he has seen the bride and groom safely to the top table, he is toasted by the groom and ‘PAID’ in a dram of whisky, legitimizing the contract and thus ensuring that the protection offered by the piper’s music was effective. The dram of whisky is offered in a Quaich, (special silver bowl type with handles on both sides) which in turn has its own unique purpose and traditions…
Having a Dram
One tradition that is often observed during both traditional and modern Scottish weddings is blessing the marriage with a dram of whisky, drunk from a ceremonial Quaich. A Quaich is a two-handled silver or pewter dish, often given to the couple as a wedding present and engraved with both their names and the date of the wedding. The Quaich is filled with whisky during the ceremony, and then once the bride and groom are ‘legally’ married they seal the wedding with a drink, and of course what is a more traditional Scottish drink than Whisky! But in modern times anything and everything can be used, from Irn-Bru to warm beer or cold tea!
Traditionally the bride is given the Quaich to drink from first, and then the groom must finish what she doesn’t.
Quaich is used for a specific reason however, and not just because it represents beautiful Celtic design – no, the Quaich must be held with both hands. This is extremely important as historically a marriage would often join two Scottish clans together, and these clans were not always on speaking terms. Because the Quaich had to be drunk with both hands it showed trust in the opposite clan and was a mark of honor and respect. The reason being if both hands were on the Quaich, neither were holding a weapon! Traditionally the Quaich would have been handed round all of the clan leaders present after the bride and groom had drunk their fill. Today it is usually passed around anyone and everyone in the wedding who wants a dram!
Many of today’s traditions reflect those of the past. For example, a typical Scottish ceremony includes “handfasting,” the symbolic act of tying a couple’s hands together to represent their union. It’s usually done with cords or ribbons made personally by the couple and is typically the main focus of their wedding day.
In 2004, some handfastings in Scotland became legally recognized as part of the wedding ceremony when the Pagan Federation of Scotland gained authorization to legally perform weddings. These weddings typically incorporate a handfasting as the main focus.
Another traditional custom is putting a silver sixpence in the bride’s shoe to represent wealth and financial security.
“It dates back to the Scottish custom of a groom putting a silver coin under his left foot for good luck. These days, a dime or a copper penny is substituted.”
There are gift-giving traditions in many cultures, and about a week before the ceremony, the mother of the Scottish bride will hold a “Show Of Presents” for her daughter. It’s like our bridal shower, and the bride’s friends bring gifts to help her in her new home. Presents are opened and the bride’s mother serves cakes and tea.
The bridal couple usually chooses either to be bagpiped down the aisle or traditional Gaelic hymns are played. The familiar “Highland Wedding Song,” which you’ve heard many times, is played at almost all Scottish weddings.
After the ceremony, everyone goes to a lavish reception feast, where the bride cuts the first slice of wedding cake.
Then they join in their first dance, which often begins with the bride and groom marching to the sound of bagpipes.
Soon the maid of honor and best man join in, followed by both sets of parents and finally by all willing guests.
One custom that hasn’t changed for more than 700 years is the custom of the groom carrying his new bride over the threshold of their new home. The custom originated to keep evil spirits from entering his wife through her feet and also reflects the Roman belief that it was unlucky if the bride tripped on entering the house for the first time. Back then they would arrange for several members of the bridal party to carry her over the threshold. Now it’s up to the groom.
Gifts of Jewelry
The luckenbooth brooch is a traditional Scottish love token. Usually made of silver, it’s engraved with two hearts intertwined or with a crown above one heart. It may also be engraved or set with stones.
The name comes from the luckenbooths of Edinburgh, where jewelry and trinkets used to be sold, including this type of brooch. Some couples pin this on the blanket of their first-born for good luck.
Some couples exchange either claddagh rings or gold rings with Celtic knotwork designs instead of plain gold wedding bands.