Tying the Knot, Paying-the-Piper and Having a Wee Dram all have their origins in traditional Scottish wedding practices.
Today, tying the knot is accepted as meaning ‘getting married’, but from where does this expression come and what does it mean? Originally it was a Scottish custom that originated in medieval times and is still practised during marriages today. In Scotland, many couples tie the knot on their wedding day. During the ceremony, the bride and groom both provide a strip of cloth, usually their clan tartan, but it can be anything rope, scarves and even dog leads that have been used for this purpose. The person conducting the wedding ceremony positions the bride and groom’s hands one over the other and then tie their wrists together with the fabric, and with some impressive manoeuvring and manipulating, will cause the fabric to be tied in a knot as the couples pull their hands apart and the fabric fastens tightly together in a knot. It is a beautiful part of the marriage ceremony, usually at the point where the couple legally commits themselves to each other. The couple is then married, and they will have the physical knot as a keepsake and reminder of their wedding day many choose to have their knots framed or mounted. The hand-fasting ceremony is legally recognized as part of a legitimate marriage ceremony in Scotland to this day.
However, what has become a sweet and symbolic joining of two people and indeed two clans today, has a far less romantic beginning. Historically, tying the knot was conducted similarly although the meaning was very different. Typically, if the bride had not produced a child and was not pregnant within one year and one day of the knot being tied, then the husband could divorce her without recourse! Happily, in these modern times, this part of the ceremony is no longer recognized but the physical tying of the knot and the legitimacy of the practice survives.
Paying-the-Piper 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, after the Battle of Cullodenin 1746, the English declared the pipes as a weapon of war and the playing of bagpipeswas banned in Scotland for the next 50 years.
Today, the playing of bagpipes has much more romantic connotations. Many Scottish weddings have a piper because it is considered lucky, particularly when the bride and groom have completed their marriage ceremony and are piped into their dinner. The skirl of the bagpipes was thought by many to scare away any evil spirits that may be hovering nearby, and in this way, the piper’s music would protect the bride and groom as they entered into their marriage and bless it with good luck. For this to be effective, however, a kind of contact had to be observed; the piper had always to be 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, which in turn has its unique purpose and tradition.
Having A Dram
One final 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 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 what is a more traditional Scottish drink than Whisky? Again, in these modern times anything and everything can be used, from Iron 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 is left, although this is optional on the part of the groom. A Quaich is used for a specific reason however because 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 honour and respect. The reason being if both hands were on the Quaich, neither was holding a weapon! Traditionally the Quaich would have been handed around to all of the clan leaders present after the bride and groom had drunk their fill. Today it is usually passed around to anyone and everyone at the wedding who wants a dram.