Scotland is one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom. A land of high mountains, scenic lochs and dramatic coastlines, Scotland has a rich history and culture. Comprising several ethnic groups, the people are feisty and fiercely loyal with a solid identity and sense of self. English is the official language, although spoken with a distinctive Scottish accent and vocabulary. Gaelic and Scots, a dialect of the English language, are also spoken. Family ties have always been strong within Scottish culture as evidenced by the formation of clans, social groups consisting of a number of families with a common ancestor.
Scotland’s cultural life has been marked by a high literacy rate dating back as early as medieval times. This eventually fostered the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century. During that period, the country was at the forefront of learning and study which included the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, economics, engineering, to name but a few. Scottish literature has its distinctive character. Storytelling is considered an art in Scotland, and Burns Supper, celebrated on January 25th, is one of the important celebrations in Scotland. It includes recitation of Robert Burns’ poetry, toasts to the guests, playing of bagpipes and eating the haggis, a Scottish delicacy made of stuffed sheep stomach.
Traditional music and dance play a key role in Scottish culture. The Great Highland bagpipes, played by kilted pipers in full regalia, have become the iconic symbol of the nation, recognized the world over. In fact, the piping groups continue the traditions not only in Scotland but wherever groups of Scotsman immigrate. Folk tunes are also accompanied by fiddle, accordion and harp. The ceilidh is a traditional social gathering, often informal in nature, where guests play instruments, sing and dance. Scotland has also made a lasting contribution to the world of sports, as it is the birthplace of curling and golf.
National crafts are pottery, glass and silver, often embellished with Celtic designs. Wool from the many flocks of sheep that graze the land is used for the textiles produced in Scotland. These include woven tartans, knitted wool garments such as Fair Isle sweaters, and Harris Tweed. More than one million metres of Harris Tweed is woven in the Hebrides each year.
Scots have been immigrating to Canada in substantial numbers for over 200 years and have been involved in every aspect of Canada’s development as explorers, educators, businessmen, and politicians. In fact, Canada’s first two prime ministers, Sir John A. MacDonald and Alexander MacKenzie, were born in Scotland. Although Scots have assimilated well into Canadian society, their traditions have remained strong and are fiercely maintained in many communities including Glengarry County, Ontario. Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, is particularly known for its Scottish style of fiddling, a legacy of the 25,000 Scots who settled the island at the end of the 18th century. Many activities and events, including highland dancing, highland games, and festivals such as St. Andrew’s Day and Robbie Burns Night are celebrated annually throughout the country.
Sponsor: Glengarry Historical Society | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons