History gives us combat and cuisine for the festive season

December 24, 2004

Women suffering stress over the Christmas dinner and men fighting with one another is nothing new during the festive season in Scotland, a Dundee University professor has revealed.

Callum Brown, chair of religious and cultural history, has been examining Christmas customs north of the border.

Following the Protestant reformation of the late 16th and 17th centuries, the state tried to repress any Christmas celebrations on the grounds that it was blasphemous - the only holy day was Sunday.

Anyone caught practising Christmas rituals was taken for questioning to the kirk session of the elders who administered the parish, Professor Brown said.

"In the 17th century the custom of baking a 'yuletide log' was a common form of secret ceremony, although it was a type of bread, rather than the cake we know now," he said.

"Women caught baking a yule log could be asked to explain their deviant activities."

Meanwhile, in Orkney, the Kirkwall ba' (ball) game had developed, where men from the town split into two teams, depending on where they lived. A ball was thrown into the air and then hundreds of men on each side leapt into the fray.

The game is still played at Christmas and New Year, despite sporadic attempts by the authorities to ban it.

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