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Your Celtic Wedding - Part 5 - Celtic Wedding Cake

By Erik Munnrson May 24, 2017

Beautiful and elegant and loaded with delicious tradition, the Irish wedding cake!



The Centerpiece of Any Wedding Festivities Is the Cake, Naturally.


It’s worth noting though that the modern American wedding cake is a far cry from the traditional Irish and Scottish wedding cakes of the past. However, the traditional form does live on and you can make it a part of your own special Celtic wedding. The most traditional celtic wedding cake is...wait for it….fruit cake. Yup. Fruit cake. Or at least a very nicely refined two- to three-tier version of it. We aren't talking about the candied fruit and citron disasters that appear in grocery stores around the holidays. No, this is a truly rich, aromatic and flavorful confection containing nutmeg, ginger, currants, candied cherries, almonds, citrus peel, molasses and more.


Fruit cakes have a long history as celebratory food in the British Isles. And enjoying one at a wedding was common throughout celtic and even non- celtic parts of the UK from the 18th century well up into the modern day. As usual, the Victorians were the ones who really took the concept over the top, but more on that in a moment.



A Symbol of Long Life and Happiness - and a Long-term Culinary Investment


The wedding cake would actually often be baked just after the couple’s engagement. Such cakes were costly and difficult to make since the fruit and spices used were only available in limited supply and seasonally. But the making of this magical treat was a great way to kick off the long-term preparations for the wedding as well as the intended marriage. This is why properly made fruit cakes are soaked lovingly in rum, brandy or some other liquor -- it adds flavor and moistness and also preserves the cake. On personal note, I can tell you it works. I have enjoyed traditional fruit cake made by my wife some three or four years after she made it and it was still delicious, though a bit on the crumbly side. (goes well with Earl Grey or a smoked tea, BTW)


You may be familiar with the idea of saving some cake for your first anniversary or the christening of your first-born child. Well, nowadays we can do so with any cake thanks to freezing. However back in the day, only a well-made, and alcohol-preserved fruit cake would survive such a long period of time. This was part of the lore of such cakes. Their ability to last for months and years was symbolic of a long and sweet marriage and family.



Preparation and Serving


Fruit wedding cakes will usually have a buttercream frosting (almond is a classic flavor), though fondant is used now for visual effect just like on other wedding cakes. It’s best to leave off the frosting on any portion of the cake you wish to preserve. Since fruitcake needs to cure in its brandy for at least several weeks before being served, plan accordingly with your baker. (See the recipe below!)


If you are not sure if your guests will be ready for an Irish fruit cake wedding cake, one option is to have just the top tier of the cake be a fruit cake. A bite of this can be shared by the bride and groom only, to bring good luck and honor the tradition. Or save the entire tier for the first anniversary or christening. Another option is to make a fruit cake as a Groom’s Cake.



Cutting the Cake and Other Fun


It is highly traditional and romantic to cut the cake using the groom’s dirk or Sgian Dubh. If you are Irish, you may also have fun with cake smashing -- it is traditional for the groom’s mother to break a piece of the wedding cake over the bride's head after the ceremony. This trick ensures that she and the bride will get along well for life.



Scottish and Irish Celtic weddings often include the Victorian wedding cake pull


The Victorian Wedding Cake “Pull”


Now, remember those crazy Victorians I mentioned? Here is their addition to the Celtic wedding cake culture. This wedding tradition is a really fun way to give tokens of the occasion to your wedding party. Small jewelry charms were tied to satin or silk ribbons and hidden under the bottom layer of the wedding cake. The cake was then assembled and arranged so that the ribbons would hang down around the perimeter, often off the edge of the table.  At some point prior to cutting the cake, the bridesmaids would be invited to each pull out a charm. Some of the traditional designs used were...


4-Leaf Clover ~ Good luck

Horseshoe ~ Prosperity & luck

Heart Lock ~ Faithful love

Key ~ The key to the heart

Wishbone ~ Wishes will come true

Magic Lamp ~ Dreams will come true

Dollar Tree ~ Financial security

Heart ~ Sincere love

Rocking Chair ~ Longevity

Wedding Bells ~ A joyous declaration

Anchor ~ Stability in life

Cross ~ Peace and tranquility

Chimney Sweep or Ladder and Brush ~ Good luck

Thistle ~ Scottish heritage

Celtic Knot ~ Celtic heritage and love’s enduring promise

The Saltire ~ Scottish heritage

Claddagh ~ Irish heritage, friendship, love, & loyalty

Celtic Cross ~ Protection for the home


These charms were usually Sterling silver, but you could use all manner of items for a modern rendition. Cake Pull Charms are also available for sale online. 



Irish and Scottish wedding cakes are actually fruit cakes 


Bake Your Own Irish / Scottish Wedding Fruit Cake!


Doing a rustic or home wedding? Or don’t trust a commercial baker to get the cake right? Here’s a basic recipe you can use to make your very own Celtic wedding cake.


 Cooking Time: 4 1/2-5 1/2 hours



Currants 1 lb. 12 oz./800g.

Sultanas (Golden Raisins) 1lb./450g.

Raisins 9 oz./25 oz 250 g.

Sliced Almonds 7 oz./200g.

Glace Cherries 70z/200g.

Citrus Peel, cut, mixed 70z/200g.

Flour 1lb 3oz. 525 g.

Salt 1 teaspoon

Mixed Spices or Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend 2 1/2 tsp.

Butter 1lb.450g.

Dark Brown Sugar 1lb. 450g.

Black Strap Molasses 2 tbsp.

Orange and Lemon zest 1 1/2 tsp. each

Eggs 8 large

Vanilla 1 1/2 tsp.

Brandy 4 tbsp.





1. Grease a cake tin and line with three layers of parchment paper. Edges of paper should extend about 2" above the rim of the tin.


2. Tie a thick band of folded newspaper around the outside of the tin to protect cake edges from over-baking.


3. Sort your fruit, remove any stalks or irregular pieces.


4. Mix fruit with halved cherries, peel and a tablespoon or two of flour.


5. Sift flour, salt and spices.


6. Cream butter and sugar.


7. To the butter,  add molasses, zests, and essences. Beat well.


8. Add the eggs, one by one with a tablespoon full of flour with each. Beat well. Fold in the fruit and remaining flour plus the brandy. Mix well.


9. Pour mixture into the prepared tin and smooth down with tablespoon making a slight hollow in the center.


10. You may leave the cake over night or till ready to bake.


11. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F., 150 degrees C.  Bake cake in center of the oven for 1-1/2 hours.


12. Reduce heat to 275 degrees F, 140 degrees C, for the remaining baking time or until the top of cake feels firm to the touch and toothpick comes out clean and dry.


13. Watch cake as it bakes. If it looks like it might over-brown, cover with parchment paper.


14. Cool cooked cake in tin then remove paper and turn upside down onto a board. Make small holes into the cake with toothpicks or a fork and pour on some extra brandy.


15. When the brandy is absorbed, wrap the cake in double layer of grease-proof paper or cheese cloth (you can lightly soak the cheese cloth with brandy as well), then a layer of foil. Seal and store in airtight container and place in a cool place for at least a month. You should finish the cake about two weeks before the wedding.


16. Cover with butter cream icing, Irish Royal Icing or Fondant.


Celtic Gifts for Father's Day!

By Erik Munnrson May 17, 2017

 Family is very important to Scotsmen



Happy Father’s Day!


Lord grant that thou may aye inherit
Thy mither's person, grace, an' merit,
An' thy poor, worthless daddy's spirit,
Without his failins,
'Twill please me mair to see thee heir it,
Than stockit mailens.

For if thou be what I wad hae thee,
And tak the counsel I shall gie thee,
I'll never rue my trouble wi' thee,
The cost nor shame o't,
But be a loving father to thee,
And brag the name o't

~ from ‘A Poet's Welcome To His Love Begotten Daughter’, Robert Burns (1785)



What Do You Give The Kilted Dad Who Has Everything?


More kilts! No seriously...If your father is dedicated to Celtic heritage and Highland fashion, there are lots of easy accessories you can get him this year to help round out his wardrobe. And yes, that even includes neckties. The nice thing about highland wear is that it is highly collectible. We all love the look and there are lots of small bits and bobs that go into it. That means lots of us end up being collectors. So you don’t have to worry about getting Dad something he already has.


Tradition is passed on from father to son in the highlands


USA Kilts Offers Celtic Father’s Day Gifts for Every Budget!


Over the years, we have gotten a sense for the most popular options that make Dad happy. Here’s a run-down of what our customers buy the most for the Old Man:



Neckties: A tartan neck tie is a go-to. We all have one in our closets. He may not wear it with his kilt, but let’s face it sometimes you can’t kilt up for every occasion, so at least this way he can show off the family colors. If he does want to wear it with a matching tartan kilt, we recommend wearing a vest or sweater vest as well to break up the pattern. The tie and kilt alone just look a bit off somehow. A solid color wool necktie is also a common accessory -- meant to be worn with the kilt and tone well with the colors of the tartan while not being too busy.  if he's not a tie guy, check out our Irish Flat Caps and Tartan Scarves


tartan ties, caps and scarves help Dad round out his Celtic look


Cuff Links: It’s been said that Americans don’t wear cufflinks much, but we beg to differ. We sell a lot of these to go with formal kilted outfits as well as business wear or simply “Celtic Festival Nice”. Maybe all our customers are hipsters...or more likely we Scots are just a classy bunch. Our most popular cuff-link set is the Square Celtic Knot -- goes with everything from a tweed jacket and vest to a Prince Charlie.



The pocket watch is the mark of a Celtic gentleman


Pocket Watch: A classic heirloom quality gift. Our most popular design is the Knot and Thistle, but we also provide the Shamrock, Welsh Dragon, and Trinity Knot - all cast into hefty pewter cases for our mechanical pocket watches. Skeletal face and back so Dad can see the workings move!


 Whisky? Or Whiskey? Scotch or Irish Whiskey -- they all deserve the right glass


Drinkin’ Gear: We have it on good authority that no sporran is complete without a flask inside. In fact, we offer some especially designed to fit! Lots of great regular hip flasks as well, natch. If you’re staying home to celebrate Father’s Day, a bottle of his favorite Scotch whisky served in genuine Glencairn tasting glasses is a fine gift.


 Sgian Dubh - the Scottish black knife for defense, utility and decoration


Sgian Dubh: Not just for threatening door-to-door solicitors anymore! Our top sellers are the custom Clan Crest Jewel Sgian Dubh and Clan Crest Officer’s Sgian Dubh. Our Damascus blade sgian is also very popular -- drool-worthy if he is a knife guy.


 There are different styles of sporran for every type of Kilt outfit


A New Sporran? If he’s been an especially good Dad, sure! This is the creme-de-la-creme of Scottish Father’s Day gifts. Most men have at least two -- one for every day, and one for special occasions. And again, they are something guys love to collect. Popular choices include our Celtic Knot (only $60!), our Simple Pin Sporran and our new Laser Etch Clan Crest Sporran. This last one is sure to be a unique part of his collection and get him lots of attention!


USA Gift Cards are the easy way to get the perfect gift for any man who wears a kilt!


The Gift Card of Freedom!: Dad is a pain in the arse to shop for, you say? Too many choices? The whole family wants to chip in and get him something extra special? USA Kilts Gift Card to the rescue! As a matter of fact, we sell a lot of these and the giftee is always thrilled to go on a personal shopping spree with no guilt attached. Plus, it’s instantly in your e-mail so it’s perfect for last-minute gifting!


Love and Affection: Sappy sentiment is as Scottish as Robert Burns, so whatever you give Dad on this special day, be sure to shower him with love too. That could mean hugs or a strong, fast punch to the bicep. You know how Celts are.  Happy Father’s Day!


Father and son together again in Scotland

Your Celtic Wedding - Part 4 - Hiring a Bagpiper

By Erik Munnrson March 31, 2017

Leading the bride into the ceremony space is a classic role for the bagpiper.


Nothing else more clearly says "Celtic wedding" than having a  genuine bagpiper included in your ceremony. Did you know Bagpipers are actually considered good luck? It’s an old custom to have the piper be the first one to greet the bride, thus ensuring a long and happy marriage. But of course the whole point of hiring a piper is the traditional music. It's a timeless gift to be enjoyed by everyone attending your wedding -- a sure way to make it memorable.


How do you hire a bagpiper for your wedding?

Many professional pipers have websites. Or you can find them by searching facebook profiles. Your wedding planner may have contacts for pipers in your area. Another option is to look up local bagpipe bands -- most pipers who do weddings also play with a pipe band. Once you have a name, check for reviews. 


Listen to samples of your prospective piper's music. 

Most pipers who perform weddings professionally are typically highly trained musicians. Be cautious if a friend suggests someone willing to play for free. Hobbyists may mean well and come cheaply, but the music may not be all that great. Be sure to listen to samples of them playing. Most pipers these days will happily share clips on Youtube.


Pro piper Ed Arnold is one of many great musicians experienced in making Scottish and Irish weddings special.



How will the bagpiper look?

Naturally, he will be kilted. Most professional bagpipers will have a basic Argyll jacket and vest as part of their kit. Some may also be able to dress in different styles to suit your wedding's theme. For example, a tweed set for a more rustic theme, or a highland shirt for a romantic, historical or rennaisance theme.  Ask them what they can or are willing to do. But always remember the playing is far more important than the uniform.


Pipers usually wear argyll or tweed 


When should the bagpiper play during the wedding ceremony?

The clear answer is "whenever you want them to play". But typically a piper will be hired to do one or more of the following:


  > As guests arrive.

  > Process the bride in.

  > To accentuate moments during the ceremony - for example as background while the handfasting cord is tied, or a unity candle lit.  

  > Process the new couple out.

  > As guests leave. 

  > Introduce the couple at the reception, usually by leading the Grand March.

  > Performing the Quaich Ceremony (non-musical)

Donald MacKenzie offers the Quaich during a wedding reception, thus bringing a further good luck blessing on the couple.

What traditional Scottish wedding music can you choose from?

If you are not sure what songs you'd like your piper to play, ask them for suggestions. Their repetoire will include many jigs, reels and marches and they will have personal favorites they are especially good at playing. They will also know these popular tunes, which are wedding classics:

Glendaruel Highlanders – a happy, energetic tune ideal for welcoming the groom and bride as they approach the wedding venue.


Bluebells of Scotland -- a beautiful and heart-stirring tune which adds romance to the ceremony.

Highland Wedding – another joyous song often used for the recessional or as a more Celtic alternative to the Bridal March.

Scotland the Brave or Mairi’s Wedding – both great choices for the Grand March - the ceremonial entrance of the wedding party and guests into the reception hall.

Flower of Scotland -- a beloved national song, almost an unofficial national anthem. You can enjoy this almost any time during the ceremony or reception.

A few other traditional favorites for the wedding or reception:


   Rowan tree


   The Green Hills of Tyrol

   Highland Cathedral

   Murdo's Wedding



   Wearing of the Green

   The Minstrel Boy

   Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife

   The Silver Spear



How much should I spend on a bagpiper?

Most pipers offer an hourly rate. The current average is between $150.00 and $200.00. One hour's worth is an unofficial minimum and includes at least one song performance, as well as the piper's travel time and costs. If all you need is for them to process you in, you will probably pay for an hour. One hour could also include some background music as the guests arrive at the venue. If you want the piper present throughout the ceremony and at the reception, you will of course pay more. 



It's all about having a memorable and joyous day for family 



What will the bagpiper require? 

Clear communication is a must. details such as where/when to play, who to escort, etc should all be ironed out well in advance -- part of contracting the piper in the first place. Pipers do not usually attend rehearsals. If you really want them to, expect to pay them for their time. For the big day, make sure your piper knows exactly when to be on site. You should provide them with clear directions to the venue (including any necessary details like what door to use, which hall the recption is in, etc.) and a good parking spot.  If at all possible arrange for a quiet, isolated spot where they can tune up. Shade is ideal if the wedding is outdoors. A bottle of water is always appreciated. Most pipers will not expect to be fed or treated as a guest in the reception.


NOTE: It is NOT recommended to have the bagpiper's performance be a surprise. While it may seem like a romantic idea, it makes it very difficult to coordinate the performance. A piper who is asked to hide is being asked to tune quietly or not at all -- not good. They will end up rushing to appear at the appointed moment and the song may come off badly. Or worse, someone who does not know about the sceret plan may get in the way.   


 Finally, if your piper makes suggestions about the ceremony or performance -- take them seriously. He or she is a professional and has probably seen many successful (as well as unsuccessful) weddings. Their goal is the same as yours -- to make the day run as smoothly as possible and be joyous.  


 We can't resist ending on a humorous (and sour) note, so here's the final piece of advice...
Avoid this:



Your Celtic Wedding - Part 3 - Rituals for Luck

By Erik Munnrson March 30, 2017

How can you add more Celtic style and meaning to your wedding? 


As a matter of fact, there are many ideas to choose from. Most of these quaint and touching customs were intended to bless the new couple with good fortune, expressing the fond wishes of their loved ones. 


For a traditional Scottish wedding toast, click here.


 The Scottish Best Man gives the couple a clock for longevity

To a Long Life

The Best Man, or another friend, should give the couple a clock to represent longevity. This harkens back to when clocks were new and very expensive -- a significant contribution to the newlyweds' new household. You may see timepieces marketed as "wedding clocks" today because of this old custom. Mondernly, a pocketwatch is sometimes given as a more personal gift to the groom. Another symbol of longevity is the infinite (or infinity) knot used as a design on many celtic wedding bands. 

The Luckenbooth, like the Claddagh, represents love and commitment

The Symbol of Commitment

Before the big day, the bride should receive a Luckenbooth pin. These brooches, shaped like a heart topped by a crown, were originally symbols of betrothal (a Scottish equivalent of the Irish Claddagh). The curious name comes from the "locked booths" of the jewlers along the Royal Mile in Edinburg from whom the would-be groom would buy the item. Like an engagement ring, it represented an investment and serious commitment. The Luckenbooth may be pinned to the bride during the ceremony. Later, it may also be pinned to the shawl of the couple's baby at its christening.

Scottish wedding dress can include traditional shirts for men

Dressed to Impress

In old times, a bride would give her groom a shirt, the "wedding sark". This probably harkens back to medieval times when the women of the household made all the clothing for the family. The sark represented her love and commitment and also advertised her domestic skills.  (Similarly, this is why you wear new clothes in Easter Sunday -- they indicated that the household was content and that the womenfolk had been secure and productive during the long winter months) In return, the groom would buy the wedding dress. Nowadays, mutual gifts of clothing can be a fun as well as well as meaningful gesture. It could be items to wear during the ceremony, or "for fun" things to change into for the reception or the first day of the honeymoon.


 heather is good luck in a Celtic wedding


Bonny Heather

Another token of good fortune and happiness is the inclusion of white heather in the bouquet, boutonnieres and other flower arrangements - it's just an all around great decoration. In Scotland, heather is said to be stained with the blood of clan wars. White is therefore the luckiest for it has grown where no blood has been shed. Scottish warriors often wore a sprig of white heather for protection. Queen Victoria popularized the wearing of white heather by brides. If you prefer the purple variety, don't fret -- all heather is symbolic of strength, resilience and domestic well-being. A genuine, hand-braided heather broom is a classic home blessing gift. 



 Tartan can be worn and used in many ways in a wedding

Sharing the Tartan

Tartan is always on proud display at a Celtic wedding: the groom's kilt, binding the bouquet, sashes or rosettes for the bridesmaids, table and altar can be everywhere!  We already mentioned using a bit of tartan cloth for a Handfasting, but there is more one may do. Often, the groom's ensemble will include a Fly Plaid (the cape-like tartan thrown over the shoulder and secured with a large brooch). During the ceremony, especially during vows or the homily, the groom may drape his fly plaid over the bride's shoulder. Alternately, he may present her with a sash or shawl in his family tartan so that as they leave the altar together, they match. Another variation is for the bride to pin the fly plaid on the groom (especially if it is her family's tartan). Other family members or an officiant may also present tartan to the bride and/or groom. There really is no wrong way to use this beautiful and symbolic cloth.



 Save up loose change for the kids to scramble for at your Scottish wedding!



At the conclusion of the wedding you may want to host a Scramble. It's quite simple; the groom, or sometimes the bride’s father or Best Man, takes coins from his sporran and tosses them about for the childen at the gathering to "scramble" for. This gesture demonstrates generosity, which was heavily linked to good fortune in ancient times. It can be a fun alternative to throwing rice or bird seed at the couple, or done in conjunction.

Don't just get introduced as a new couple...process in in Scottish style!

Stepping out...or in

In a traditional Scottih wedding, the couple are not so much introduced at the reception as paraded in. And everyone takes part.  This is known as the "Scottish Grand March" and it really counts as the first dance of the evening. The bagpiper will play a foursome reel (sometimes leading the procession as well).The newly-weds enter the hall first, hand in hand. They are followed by the wedding party, then the parents, and finally the guests. The reel can continue as long as people like. It often wraps up with the guests forming a circle around the room. As the music continues, the bride leads her father or grandfather to the center of the floor for their Father-Daughter Dance. Guests can clap along, or you can transition to more modern music. This ritual really builds excitement and energy and allows everyone to be involved. 

Your Celtic Wedding - Part 2 - The Quaich

By Erik Munnrson March 29, 2017

A lovely part of any Celtic wedding is the quaich ceremony


The Quaich (pronounced "quake") is the traditional Scottish "cup of welcome."

A small metal, horn or wooden drinking bowl designed for holding whisky, it dates back to at least the 16th century and may have originated in Scandinavia -- a distant descendant of the ritual drinking horn. Quaichs bear two handles or "lugs". One is held by the person offering the cup, the other by the person receiving the drink, which represents hospitality and friendship. It was common to offer a guest a dram of whisky in the quaich when they entered your home, and another upon parting (this should remind you of the line from the song..."And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne."

 Quaichs - lways beautiful, sometimes rustic, sometimes regal


No true Gaelic home is complete without one. Historically, the first time the artesenal "loving cup" was given as a wedding token was in 1589 when King James VI of Scotland gave one to Anne of Denmark.  It has become a ritual element of celtic weddings ever since, as well as a classic wedding present. 


Both the bride and groom may fill the quaich as part of the ceremony


During a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom may fill the quaich together. Whisky tasting glasses are very handy for this as well as elegant. They then offer each other the whisky (or another beverage). This can be worked in at several points in the proceedings. Usually it is done before or after the vows but always before the handfasting (for obvious reasons!). The cup can also be shared with family members to symbolize the union of the two families. It's a bit like lighting a unity candle, but much more authentic for a Scottish or Irish wedding.



There are many styles of quaich to choose from, but silver is most pleasing for a wedding



During the reception, the Best Man (or the honored friend you have chosen) should use the quaich during their speech. They may be all set with a personalized toast full of stories about the two of you.  However, in addition to whatever they would like to say (or if they are nervous about public speaking!), they may enjoy offering up this traditional, light-hearted wedding blessing written by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns:

May the best you've ever seen
Be the worst you'll you ever see.
May the mouse ne'er leave your pantry
With a teardrop in its e'
May you lum keep blithly reekin'
Til you old enough to dee.
May you always be just as happy
As I wish you now to be.

 It is also a great piece for an officiant or piper to deliver.



Another person who traditionally offers a toast to the couple at the reception is the bagpiper. After processing the newly wedded couple into the hall, the piper should be offered payment for his services -- hence the expression "paying the piper". This payment would of course be monetary (though realistically you will actually be paying the piper with a check at another time). However just as importantly, payment included a drink from the quaich. As he is presented with the dram, the piper traditionally toasts the good health of the couple.  This is a more rare custom nowadays, but it is about as Scottish as it gets and worth considering, especially if your piper has outdone himself. 


 A great way to add excitement and fun to your reception - the piper's toast


The quaich may also be passed around the room allowing each guest to raise a toast. This is another ancient tradition which is also sometimes enjoyed during Ceilidhs (Celtic dance parties) -- with each person holding the quaich having a chance to toast, sing or tell a short story before quaffing their whisky, But be warned, Celtic toasting can sometimes be more like Celtic roasting, especially as more and more guests offer anecdotes about the bride or groom!


 After the big day, your wedding quaich can have a proud place in your home. Quaichs are often displayed on the mantle, with wedding photos, or a piece of the family tartan.  And naturally you will want to bring it out for any special occasions such as holiday dinners to share with loved ones and rekindle fond memories.  


Your Celtic Wedding - Part 1 - Handfasting

By Erik Munnrson March 28, 2017

Handfasting, like kilts, is a celtic wedding tradition



"Tying the knot" is more than a slang expression, it's a form of celtic wedding vows.


"Handfasting", in which a couple literally have their hands tied together with a cord, was just one of many ancient Celtic marriage forms permitted under the Irish "Brehon" Law. The man and woman who came together for the hand-fasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time. Usually it was "a year and a day." At the end of the year, the couple could enter into a "permanent" marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.



 Ancient Irish couples used the handfasting to show their vows



The handfasting custom, which started in pagan times, continued throughout the post-Christianization period and spread throughout Celtic lands, not merely Ireland. It was practical. In a rural village with no resident priest, you could do a handfasting with just a single witness.  Later on, a priest could "finish up" the wedding with a Christian ceremony. Handfasting cords were also far more affordable than wedding rings!



 handfasting can be a great addition to both exotic as well as traditional weddings



Nowadays, the practice is often included as part of a larger wedding ceremony, usually as the couple speak their vows. For this, you will want to have on hand a piece of braided cord (perhaps in wedding colors) or ribbon. Best of all is to have a strip of the family tartan (remnants from the making of a kilt are great). If both families have tartans, you may want to braid the two together to enhance the symbolism. Flower garlands, ivy, and fancy decorative ribbon, even remnants from vintage wedding gowns can also be used to create handfasting chords which can become heirloom items. 



The symbolism of handfasting is powerful, especially for couples of irish and Scottish ancestry 



Here's a sample version of the handfasting ceremony you can share with your officiant:

Officiant speaks:
"Groom" and "Bride" wish to close this ceremony with the traditional Celtic handfasting. This symbolic binding of hands is the source of terms like "Bonds of Holy Matrimony" and to "tie the knot."  Throughout the history of our ancestors, and in many parts of the world, this act has symbolized the 
commitment of two people, one to the other. While the cords themselves are impermanent, much the way life on earth is, the bond they rpresent, the true bond of love, is undying. 

"Bride", "Groom", please join your right hands.

As you hold hands, the cord is wrapped around your wrists in a figure eight -- a symbol of eternity. You can also hold hands and touch your elboys together and have the officiant wrap the cord around your forearms. Either way, it should be lose enough for you to hold hands comfortablly, perhaps while kissing, and also for when you recess from the ceremony. 


"Groom" and "Bride",  this cord symbolizes your two lives. Once seperate, they are now bound together as one. Where you have lived seperately in thought, word and action, now you move into the future together. May you find joy, satisfaction and growth in all things. May your life together be a blessing for you, and for all those lives you will touch. 

End. You can now have the officiant introduce you as a a married couple and close the ceremony.  However, the handfasting can be done at almost any point in a wedding celebration. It is a nice way to join together while reciting your vows.  Get creative and make it your own special moment!


More on Celtic Wedding Traditions coming up!


All walks of life enjoy the handfasting ceremony. Its meaning is timeless.

Tartan Day is April 6!

By Erik Munnrson March 21, 2017

Scottish bagpipe bands strut their stuff for NYC Tartan Day parade


Tartan Day has become such a big deal it is hard to believe the holiday is so young.

Now, New York City has gone so far as to declare the days surrounding April 6th “Tartan Week” to accommodate all the festivities. Meanwhile, many other cities around the USA have inaugurated their own Tartan Day celebrations. At last count, there are around 6 million people of Scottish descent in the US. No wonder Tartan Day is growing!


The first American Tartan Day was started in NYC by the New York Caledonian Club on July 1, 1982. It was a one-time-only celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the ‘Act of Proscription’ of 1747. This was the infamous British law which forbade Scots from wearing Tartan as well as other elements of national dress. Everyone had a good time, but the event was stand-alone.


It was not until 1998 that the Coalition of Scottish Americans successfully lobbied the Senate to draft a resolution designating April 6 as ‘National Tartan Day’. But that wasn’t the end of the process -- other resolutions followed. Finally in 2008, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation setting National Tartan Day in stone. As the proclamation states, the holiday officially recognizes that "Americans of Scottish descent have made enduring contributions to our Nation with their hard work, faith, and values. On National Tartan Day, we celebrate the spirit and character of Scottish Americans and recognize their many contributions to our culture and our way of life."


 Scottish Americans were pivotal during the revolutionary War


So why April 6th?

On April 6, 1320, Scottish magnates and nobles gathered at Arbroath Abbey to set their seals on a letter to Pope John XXII. This document, called the Declaration of Arbroath, asserted Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign nation with the right to use force of arms if unjustly attacked. It has been called “the Scottish Declaration of Independance” and many believe it was a strong influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States. A great number of the founding fathers were of Scottish descent. And Thomas Jefferson, who wrote our Declaration of Independance, had a Scottish tutor. So even if they did not refer directly to the ancient document, it is quite reasonable to imagine that its spirit was passed down to these brave men culturally.


 The Declaration of Arbroath influenced the American declaration of independence


Kilt up for Tartan Day!

All over the world, people of Scottish descent dress up to celebrate. Naturally, the holiday is a great excuse to sharpen up your highland wear outfit, even if you already own a kilt. (you knew we'd get a plug in here somewhere, didn't you?) Scottish national symbols you will see worn with pride this weekend include...



National symbls of Scotland appear on many kilt accessories
  The Saltire -- the Scottish flag featuring a white "X" on a blue field.



St. Andrew was crucified on an "X", or Roman, cross.
  The Scottish flag is a heraldic representation of the Cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.



The royal rampant lion of the Sewarts
  Another very popular symbol is the Rampant Lion -- heraldic symbol of the Kings of Scotland



The thistle is an ancient Scottish symbol
  And of course, the Scottish thistle -- perhaps the most ancient of Scottish national symbols.


Check Your Events Calendar!

Tartan Day parades and other activities are held by St Andrew's Societies throughout the nation. Most events take place on the weekend closest to April 6. Major cities with long-running Tartan Day celebrations include New York City (still the biggest!), St. Charles, Missouri, Washington DC, Baltimore, Alexandria, Virginia and San Diego, California. Hundreds of pipe bands perform. There are also Highland dancers, dog shows, pub crawls, you name it. So get ready to show your Scottish and American pride and have a grand time!


Happy Tartan Day!


Tartan Day festivities include many Scottish traditions

Military Kilts for Living History

By Erik Munnrson March 9, 2017

Are you a kilted living historian? Maybe you portray a World War I Canadian infrantryman. Or perhaps a World War II British officer.

If so, you know how hard it is to find a kilt that looks accurate, is made to spec and is actually durable enough to survive the average weekend event. 


 WWI Canadian Kilt


We learned about this problem through one of our senior kilt-makers, Dan "Mac" McMichael, who does WWI, WWII and other periods as well. Apparently, it's a common complaint that the right kilt for the job is hard to find, to say the least. And it may look alright using the 10-foot rule, but that doesn't mean it is right or that it won't fall apart. We picked Mac's brain for a bit more info...


What about wearing an actual surplus kilt? 

"I've opened up packages with surplus kilts in them and the fumes from the formaldehyde will make you keel over, " Mac says. "Those things don't become surplus until they have been really beaten up. Or they have been in grandma's attic for sixty years and are full of holes. A lot of the time the threads and leather are rotted."


So who is making decent reproduction kilts? 

"In my opinion, nobody. That's why Rocky and I discussed the idea of doing them. The ones I have seen are almost always felted wool-acryllic blend fabric. The pattern looks blurry. The overall quality of material and construction is not what I'd want.  And I wouldn't want to get anything Arcrylic near fire!"


badly made reproduction kilts and surplus kilts both tend to fall apart

We asked Mac to spec out what makes a proper reenactment kilt. One thing led to another, and now we are making them on a custom basis. So, you can get a Reproduction Kilt made by a kilt maker who is also a long-time living historian.  


Here are the specs on our standard Reproduction Military Kilt:

  • Custom Fit with correct 4" Military Rise
  • Cloth: 16oz 100% Scottish Tartan Wool
  • Tartans: Cameron, Gordon, Blackwatch, MacKenzie, Royal Stewart, and more 
  • Waist Band:  1 1/4" Twill Tape in military sage
  • Lining: Undyed Cotton or Linen (we prefer the linen as it holds up better)
  • Straps: 1 1/4" Leather straps with veg tan finish. NO hip strap (for accuracy)
  • Buckles: Chromed Steel
  • Loops: None (for accuracy)
  • Fringe on Apron: None (for accuracy)
  • Pleats: Knife Only (sorry, no box pleats) - We will pleat to the Sett or the Stripe of your choice
  • Production Time: 6-10 Weeks - 3 WEEK RUSH AVAILABLE for additional charge
  • Price: Approx. $600
 Military Kilt made to Proper Specs
Properly constructed with hand-sewn details


 What else should renactors know when they order a military kilt from USA Kilts?

Mac points out, "The exact pleating and other details of a kilt could change based on the unit, manufacturer, time it was made, materials available -- all that. I have seen countless examples of kilts done for the same unit with different pleating. The best thing would be to provide us with a photograph of what you are hoping for as well as unit information, year, specs -- whatever you got. We will do our best to recreate a match. But remember -- a few details may be a bit different. Usually because we are making the kilt to be hard-wearing. "


PLEASE NOTE: These kilts are made custom to your measurements. As a result they are non-returnable. They cost a bit more than our regular 8-yard kilts, but we are trying to keep the cost down -- budget around $600.  If you want to share this page with your unit and friends, we'd be grateful, but bear in mind this product will not appear for sale on our website -- it's just for you guys. So please share our email ( ) or phone number and order with us over the phone: 800-368-8633

Do Irish Wear Kilts?

By Erik Munnrson February 23, 2017

It’s a perennial question with a lot of confusion. Did Irish people wear kilts? The short answer is yes, but not for as long as the Scots. While kilts in Scotland can be dated back some 300 years or more, Irishmen have only kilted up for the past 100 years or so. Still, there’s no tradition like a new tradition! How did it come about? It’s all about nationalism and Gaelic pride.



Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish men wore a long linen tunic called the Lein-croich. There are many depictions of it in stone carvings and other art like the 16th-century painting of Irish warriors below. In these images, the saffron-dyed Lein-croich is often bunched up around the body and the men are bare legged. This led some later observers to mistake it for a Great Kilt such as the Scots wore.



The first documented use of a true kilt in Ireland was by students and faculty of the Saint Enda’s School around 1910. The school was founded by Irish nationalist Patrick Pierce and his peers to boost Irish pride and a reconnection to Gaelic culture and language (the "Gaelic Revival"). The school fostered the idea of the kilt as a pan-celtic garment and supplied kilts to dance students.



You might expect the first Irish kilts to be Kelly green, but not so. In fact, the very first ones worn by the nationalists were blue; the canonical color of Saint Patrick. Around the time of World War One, Irish units serving in the British military adopted Saffron for parade and pipe band uniforms -- a tradition which continues to this day.




Modernly, there are many beautiful Irish tartans for proud Irishmen to choose from. Since the 1990's, each county has had its own (unofficial) distinct tartan. While a few Irish families do have tartans associated with them, most people trace their ancestry back to a county of origin and wear that tartan. This is especially popular in the USA. In fact, more Irish Americans kilt up than Irish natives, including many pipe bands across the country. Military branch tartans are also very popular with Irish American service people.



There are also several universal tartans for people of Irish descent. And while county tartans are usually only available in wool, these universals are available in PV (polyviscose), so you can enjoy a cool, machine-washable kilt for Saint Patrick’s Day festivities as well as casual wear at festivals or the pub. Here are the top universal Irish kilt favorites available from USA Kilts:


Kelly Green
- as universally Irish as the Shamrock and very popular with those who want a simple look. Or if you want to show off a really gorgeous sporran  a green kilt is a great option.


- the oldest recorded Irish tartan. Originally known as “Murphy” in Victorian times, it is named for the Mound of Tara where the ancient irish kings were crowned.


Ireland’s National
- The colors of the flag of Ireland set against rich black. if someone refers to an all Ireland tartan, this may be the one they are thiking of. 


Irish American
- Designed especially for the sons and daughters of proud Irish immigrants.


Irish Heritage
- Classic kelly green and silver on black. Fans of a certain Boston punk band may find it familiar! Also an elegant tartan for dressing up.


- The “color of the kings” hearkening back to medieval Ireland and also honoring Irish military men.


Scruffy Wallace
- A USA Kilts original designed especially for the famous Boston rock bagpiper himself. (Limited Edition while supplies last!)


So are kilts irish? Yes. Kilting may not be an old Irish custom, but it is a grand one.  Gaelic men live life to the fullest and that's what kilts are all about, lads!  
Naturally we hope you will choose to kilt up to celebrate your Irish heritage. And when you do, please remember we also proudly carrythe widest selection of Irish kilt accessories around -- many custom-designed USA Kilts Exclusives!


Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Host a Burns Supper!

By Eric M. January 11, 2017

January 25th marks the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). Tributes to the man and his art are held around the world on this night in the form of the 'Burns Supper'. The first recorded supper was held in 1801 around the anniversary of the Bard's death by a small group of friends and acquaintances. The suppers are now held annually on the date of his birth, January 25th.

Robert Burns 


Burns Suppers, theoretically, are meant to be informal with an air of rustic simplicity -- romantic ideals of Highland life which Burns extolled in his poetry. However, modern Burns Suppers vary in style and level of formality according to the hosting group's vision. They can be as simple as a party held at a local pub, or as formal as a black tie affair. Regardless, there are certain ritual elements which must be included to make it a true Burns Supper...


After the guests have gathered, the host will say a few words of introduction. After everyone is seated, the host or another speaker will recite the Lowland Scots 'Selkirk Grace', also known as the 'Galloway Grace' or the 'Covenanters' Grace':

Some hae meat and canna eat,
  And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
  Sae let the Lord be thankit.
And sae the Lord be thankit

Burns is said to have delivered an extempore version in Standard English at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk on St. Mary's Isle:

Some have meat and cannot eat,
  Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
  So let the Lord be thankit.

A starter of soup is then served; usually Scots broth or Cock-a-Leekie.  The main event of the meal comes next: the Piping in of the Haggis. A large, piping-hot Haggis (called by Burns "the 'great chieftain o' the puddin'-race") is carried into the dining room on a tray with a bottle of whisky and glasses. A piper leads the procession playing 'A Man's A Man' or another Burns song. The haggis is set down before the host, who now recites Burns' famous 'Address to a Haggis'.


As he reaches the line of the poem, "His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An' cut you up wi' ready slicht", the host draws his Sgian Dubh and plunges it into the haggis, slicing it open from end to end in dramatic fashion. A whisky toast is then proposed to the haggis. Mashed potatoes (champit tatties) and turnips (bashed neeps) traditionally accompany the haggis.

After the meal is concluded, one of the guests delivers a speech commemorating Burns and proposes a toast to the great man, known as the "Immortal Memory." A second toast is made "to the lassies" in recognition of Burns' fondness for the fair sex. Oftentimes, a female guest will reply with a humorous toast "to the laddies."

After the speeches, there may be singing of songs by Burns. Some Suppers include Scottish country dancing and many dance clubs host Burns Suppers as an occasion to hold a cilidh. Whisky tastings are also popular.

At the very end of the evening, the guests will stand together to sing Auld Lang Syne; the Burns song which has become an international anthem of camaraderie and has been translated into over thirty different languages.

Want to host your own Burns Supper?

It's not hard to do! Haggis, despite a lot of bad jokes here in the USA, is a very tasty dish you can make yourself (see the recipe below). You'll want to invest in a nice bottle of whisky and, naturally, a volume of Burns' poetry. Another nice touch is to play some of the music composed by the Bard. We recommend "The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, Vol. 1 & 2" available from various online sellers and including interpretations by a variety of accomplished Celtic musicians.


Here is a classic Haggis recipe you can make in a common casserole dish (no sheep’s stomach required!)



18 oz ground lamb
18 oz ground beef
5 oz suet (beef or vegetable)
4 oz oats
1 1/4 cup stock (you can strain this from the boiled meat, or use a prepared beef stock)
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
sea salt
ground black pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 320° F.

2. Cover the lamb & beef with water and bring to the boil in a large pot. Simmer for about 40 minutes and cool. Save the stock from the meat.

4. Roughly chop and toast the oats in a hot pan, shaking occasionally to make sure they don't burn.

5. Mix all the ingredients together with the stock and transfer to a well-greased casserole dish and cover with a layer of tin-foil.

6. Place in a water bath using a pan large enough to accommodate the dish and add boiling water around it. The water should come about 3/4 of the way up the side of the dish. Check this occasionally and top up the water level. Cook for about 2 1/2 hours and serve immediately with whisky sauce and mashed potatoes and turnips.

Traditional Whisky Sauce:

2 cups cream
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbls Dijon mustard
2 tsp Irish whiskey
sea salt
ground white pepper
3 tbls chopped scallions

Heat the cream in a pan over a medium heat. Add mustards, scallions and whisky and whisk together. Increase heat until the mixture is simmering. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes until it thickens up a bit. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.