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.
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.
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)
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:
The Green Hills of Tyrol
Wearing of the Green
The Minstrel Boy
Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 cloths...it 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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!
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.
Here's a sample version of the handfasting ceremony you can share with your officiant:
"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 represent, 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 elbows together and have the officiant wrap the cord around your forearms. Either way, it should be lose enough for you to hold hands comfortably, perhaps while kissing, and also for when you recess from the ceremony.
"Groom" and "Bride", this cord symbolizes your two lives. Once separate, they are now bound together as one. Where you have lived separately 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.
You can now have the officiant introduce you as 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!
When putting together a highland wear outfit, most men think about the kilt first and foremost. However, a good deal of thought can also go into the accessories. Here at the shop, we are often asked by customers to explain the symbolism on our belt buckles, brooches, kilt pins, cap badges, and sporrans. Our first response is to remind them that which accesories they choose is entirely up to them -- it’s a matter of taste, style and the context in which they wish to use the outfit. For those who want their kilt ensemble to really scream “Alba Gu Brath!”, there are many options that speak to Scottish pride through ancient national symbols. Here’s a quick re-cap of the most popular.
The thistle has been a symbol Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286) who was probably the first monarch to use the humble thistle as an emblem. Another early appearance is on silver coins issued in 1470 by James III. It is the emblem of Scotland’s high chivalric order, the Order of the Thistle and also appears in the base of the Royal Coat of Arms . The so-called “guardian thistle” is also the origin of one of scotland’s official mottos: “No-one harasses me with impunity." Usually written in the Latin, "Nemo me impune lacessit." According to legend, the night before the Battle of Largs (1263) Norwegian troops were sneaking up on the resting army of Alexander III. One Norse warrior stepped on a thistle and his screams of agony alerted the Scots to the threat. The legend can’t be proven, but the thistle certainly reflects the prickly attitude of the Scots towards those who would subdue them.
The rampant lion we all know and love is technically the central charge (heraldic symbol)on the Royal Banner of Scotland (Gaelic: Bratach rìoghail na h-Alba, Scots: Ryal banner o Scotland). This golden flag is very familiar and is reproduced on many articles even though technically its use is restricted to the King of Scots and Great Officers of State -- official representatives of the Sovereign. The banner is “emblazoned” in heraldic language as Or, a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory counter-flory of the second. Translation: a red lion standing upright with blue tongue and claws within a red two-lined border decorated with opposing pairs of floral icons, all on a yellow or gold background. It will always be seen flying above royal residences when the Sovereign is not present.
Probably the earliest recorded use of the Lion Rampant was by King William I who became known posthumously as “William the Lion” because of the symbol (even though various forms of the lion had been used by earlier Scottish monarchs going back to the 11th century). His successor, Alexander II adopted it around 1222. Alexander III (1249–1286) also used it but added the double border set with lilies. Since 1603, when James VI acceded to the thrones of England and Ireland, the Lion Rampant has represented Scotland in the royal arms and banners of successive British monarchs.
‘Saltire’ is actually a heraldic term for any X-shaped cross. THE Saltire, the national flag of Scotland, gets its name from this shape (Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba, Scots: Banner o Scotland). More importantly, the Scottish Saltire is a representation of the cross of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, who was crucified on such a cross in the 1st century AD. According to legend, the blue/white saltire shown on the flag appeared as a mystical symbol during a battle which pitted Scots and Picts against the Angles (Athelstaneford, 832 A.D.). King Óengus II, the Scottish leader, had prayed to St. Andrew for victory the night before the battle. The next morning, he and his men beheld a white cross of clouds in a perfectly clear blue sky. Taking it as a sign of divine support, the Celtic army was spurred to victory and in gratitude, Óengus declared St. Andrew the patron saint of Scotland.
Images of St. Andrew with or on his cross appear in Scotland as early as 1180 during the reign of King William I (the Lion king we mentioned above). Andrew may also be seen on official seals dating to the late 13th century. Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th century wore a white saltire on their tunics - perhaps the earliest solid use of the symbol in a military context. The earliest print image of a St. Andrew’s cross flag appears in the Vienna Book of Hours (1503), but in this depiction the white cross is on a red field. Use of a blue field is about as old -- Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount's Register of Scottish Arms (1542) depicts such a flag.
Perhaps the most romantic and stirring image of the Saltire is in the form of a hat. Not just any hat, but the famous blue bonnets worn by Jacobite rebels during the Uprising of 1745-46 which ended in the tragic Battle of Culloden. Dyed with woad, the felted wool "scone cap" was actually a very popular workingman's hat for years - perfect practical protection for damp weather. The Jacobites made it a symbol of affiliation on the field of battle by decorating it with a white ribbon sewn into the the shape of St. Andrew's cross -- a wearable a saltire.
There are several universal tartans listed on the official national registry. A few, like Royal Stewart and Blackwatch, are defacto national tartans -- instantly recogizable as emblems of Scotland the world over. However, there is an official national tartan. Created in 1993 and recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society in 1994, 'Scottish National' was designed originally for the Scottish National Party. It has since lost any specific political association and merely represents Scottish pride and heritage. It's an easy option for anyone who is unsure about wearing a clan tartan but wants something more significant than a "fashion tartan".
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."
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.
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...
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!
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.
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!"
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
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 ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) or phone number and order with us over the phone: 800-368-8633