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SOME SCOTCH CUSTOMS
OUR little Scotch cousins do not make so much of Christmas as the American children. Their great holiday is the New Year. On the eve of "Hogmanay," as it is called, everybody stays up to welcome the New Year, with great jollification.
"Do you think that Uncle Clarke will get here in time?" Don asked for the hundredth time on New Year's eve. The Gordons had been expecting him all the week, but he had not yet come, and Don went about grumbling that "Hogmanay" would be no fun at all without Uncle Clarke.
The MacPhersons and the Gordons were all sitting in the library of Kelvin House, to see the old year out and the new year in. A table was spread with cakes and many other good things to eat, and the children had been wondering all the evening who would make the "first-footing."
A "first-footing" is made by the first person who enters the house after the stroke of midnight; and if he wishes well to the household, he should bring a cake of shortbread with him.
There is always great hilarity at a "firstfooting." Everybody kept their eyes on the clock, and Doctor Gordon pulled out his watch every little while to be sure that the clock had not stopped.
Just as the stroke of twelve rang out, all the bells of the city began to ring, and great shouts went up from the throngs of people who crowded the streets, and there was a great kissing and shaking of hands among the happy households who had assembled for the ceremony.
In the midst of all the gaiety at Kelvin House the front door-bell rang. "Oh! there's our 'first-footing,'" shouted the children in one voice, and they all rushed to the door. Who should it be but Uncle Clarke, with a big cake of shortbread in his arms!
"I knew he'd come, I knew he'd come," shouted Don, triumphantly, dragging him into the room. Well, wasn't there a great time! and wasn't everybody pleased!
After this other friends came in to wish the family a "Happy New Year," and then everybody joined hands and sang "Auld Lang Syne," that best known song of Robert Burns, Scotland's greatest poet.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
We'll drink a cup of kindness yet,
For the days of Auld Lang Syne."
Another great event for the children of Scotland is to hear a "Royal Proclamation," which is a message from the king, read out at Mercat Cross in Edinburgh. It is carried out with great ceremony, and is another old-time custom which has lived to this day. The heralds come in their gorgeous costumes, all red and blue and gold, with a military escort from the Highland Regiment at the castle, and the band plays as the procession makes its way to the cross.
There is a great fanfare by the trumpeters, after which the king's message is read out to the people assembled. Then there is another fanfare blown on the long trumpets, which have gorgeous banners hanging from them, after which the band plays "God Save the King," and the people all take off their hats.
One morning a shrill whistle brought Sandy to his garden wall.
"What's up?" he called out.
"Whist!" It was Don who swung himself off an overhanging branch of an old pear-tree, and dropped down on Sandy's side of the wall.
"There are a lot of the Irish lads behind the churchyard wall; they didn't see me, so I sneaked around the back way. Our crowd is going to be at the top of the street, so hurry up," said Don, in a most excited manner.
"I'm ready," said Sandy, "but we haven't got a bit of blue."
"Here's a ribbon that will do; I saved it off the last box of sweets," said Don, with the air of a general planning a campaign, as he took a bedraggled bit of blue ribbon out of his pocket and hastily cut it in two with his knife.
Each of the lads tied a piece in his buttonhole as they ran out by all the back alleyways in the direction of the church.
What was it all about? Well, it was St. Patrick's Day, the seventeenth of March, and when any of the Scotch and Irish lads met on that day, there was bound to be a battle between them. The Irish boys wore green ribbons, and the Scotch boys blue ones.
This is one of the many old customs which still go on in some parts, though probably not many know just why it has survived; and the boys themselves perhaps never stop to realize that it is an old custom, and do not care what its origin may have been, so long as it furnishes them some fun and no serious hurts come of it. On one occasion Don came home after the fray with a big bump on the side of his head which had frightened his mother, but at which the doctor laughed, and said a few knocks like that wouldn't hurt any lad. As for Donald, he gloried in going around and showing off his injury, his head meanwhile wrapped in a great poultice. For this he was quite a hero in the eyes of his playmates.
To-day the Scotch line of battle was preparing to move from its position when our lads came up panting and breathless. The idea was to surprise the Irish boys entrenched behind the churchyard wall, who were guarding themselves only against an attack which they expected to come from an entirely different direction.
Our little Scotch band crept carefully along, taking advantage of the shelter of every wall and tree. They had drawn up in the rear of the enemy, and were just gathering their forces for an onslaught, when a head popped round the angle of the wall, and out rushed the whole troop of Irish lads, and the battle begun.
First one crowd was driven down the hill and then the other; and so it went on until from sheer fatigue both sides drew off, each claiming a victory; which probably was as good a way of deciding it as any, for it is very hard to say which are the bravest, the Scotch or the Irish. Both nations have proved themselves fair fighters in the past.
The next day Sandy and Don were seen playing games with some of the enemy, so it is seen no hard feelings came from the encounter.
Donald and Sandy always enjoyed the fun of egg-rolling at Easter, which is much the same kind of sport that children amuse themselves with in some parts of America, though nobody seems to know just how the custom originated.
Then the children have "Hallowe'en" parties, when they play many kinds of queer games. Often there is a cake in which there has been baked a small china doll, a brass ring, a thimble, a button, and a threepenny silver piece, each of which means some sort of good or bad fortune for the one who finds it in his or her piece of cake. But, generally speaking, the children are most anxious to receive the coin, for that can be spent, you know.
We must not forget the "haggis," which Donald sometimes ate for dinner. It is a favourite old-time Scotch dish, a sort of a pudding, made of various kinds of meat and meal, and put into a bag and boiled a long time. It is not eaten so much to-day as formerly, but Mrs. Gordon always made a point of having it on certain special occasions, as a great treat. As it is very rich, and quite unsuited as a steady diet for children, perhaps it is just as well that they do not have it too often.
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