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Christmas in Scotland

Scottish Christmas traditions are very recent because Christmas did not become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958.

In 1640 an act in the Scottish Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, then called Yule. This was because of the Reformation, which saw the country breaking with the Catholic Church and developing a national Kirk (church) which was influenced by Presbyterian outlooks. The attitudes towards celebrations changed after the Reformation leading to them outlawing the celebration of Christmas festivities.

Christmas was, therefore, a quiet affair for many years; which meant that Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) was the biggest festival for the Scottish. Hogmanay includes many traditions such as “first-footing” which is to be the first person to visit a friend after midnight, often bringing a gift, to give the household luck for the coming year.

Another tradition is singing “Auld Lang Syne” a very famous Scottish song, written by Robert Burn. People sing this in a circle with linked arms as the New Year is rung in and then cross their arms over as midnight strikes. Auld Lang Syne is sung all over the world at New Year, mostly English speaking countries but others as well.

Since the 1980s, however, the church has had less influence on the people and as such Christmas is now a big celebration.

Food such as the Clootie Dumpling is often eaten at Christmas. This dessert mixes flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, animal fat (suet), sugar, spice, and milk to form a dough. It is then wrapped in a cloth, called a clootie, before placed in a pot of water two hours then allowed to dry in the oven. We also often drink Scottish whiskey and eat the normal British Christmas dinner of turkey “with all the trimmings” and Christmas pudding or trifle.

Another British tradition we observe is Pantomimes. These are funny plays aimed for families that are based on fairy tales and the audience participates a lot. Many schools even invite pantomime troops to perform for school kids before the holidays.

We have also borrowed traditions from other countries, Edinburgh has a famous German-style Christmas market.

The text was written in September 2019.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Lorna Murphy is an Erasmus+ volunteer from Scotland, UK, who graduated in tourism management and loves traveling.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3 (KA3) which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.