Culture Heritage Learning

Christmas Traditions

15th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

09510019Christmas (originally meaning the Mass or Birth of Christ) is a holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus in Christian belief. However, many Christmas traditions are based on other older pre-christian festivals. The Yule log, Christmas Tree, Mistletoe and Holly, for example, all derive from Scandinavian ceremonies associated with the Winter Solstice – December 21.

In mainly Christian countries, Christmas has become a major holiday of the year, but it is also celebrated as a secular holiday in countries with small Christian populations like Japan.

Christmas Today

08120374The modern Christmas, that we have come to know, is based on an exchange of gifts between family and friends; or on gifts being brought by Santa Claus. Local and regional Christmas traditions are still rich and varied. For example, in some countries in Europe, gifts are exchanged on December 6th or Epiphany – 6th January.

Coupled with celebration of the New Year, this whole mid-winter period has become a holiday set piece.


Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth is a central figure of Christianity. He is known as Jesus Christ with “Christ” being a title meaning “Anointed”. He is also considered a very important prophet in Islam.

The main sources regarding his life and teachings are four Gospels from the New Testament of the Bible, written some decades after his death. He is depicted as a Jewish Galilean preacher and healer who was at odds with the Jewish religious authorities, and who was crucified outside Jerusalem during the rule of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. After his death numerous followers spread his teachings, and within a few decades Christianity emerged as a religion distinct from Judaism.

The Gospels State that:

  • Jesus was the Messiah – prophesied in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible)
  • He was the son of God
  • His birth by Mary was virginal
  • after His crucifixion He rose from the dead
  • He ascended into heaven

Many Christians believe that the accounts in the New Testament are historical facts, though others maintain that different parts have different degrees of accuracy.

Jesus is thought to have been born in a stable and was attended by Wise Men and Shepherds who brought gifts. In Christian thought, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth and the giving of gifts reflects that.

In Islam, Jesus (called Isa) is considered one of God’s most beloved and important prophets, a bringer of divine scripture, and also the messiah; although Muslims attach a different meaning to this term than Christians as they do not share the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus.

Other religions also have different perspectives on Jesus, but do not place as much importance on his life and teachings.

Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy or simply Santa) is a folk hero in various cultures. He distributes gifts to children, traditionally on Christmas Eve. Santa’s name is a variation of Saint Nicholas.

Father Christmas is a well-loved figure in the United Kingdom and similar in many ways to Santa Claus, though the two have quite different origins.

Boxing Day

In English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called ‘Boxing Day’. This word comes from the custom, started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago, whereby churches would open their ‘alms boxe’ (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas.

Yule & Pagan Festivities

Yule means “feast”. Yule derives from the early Scandinavians and refers to the festival at the Winter Solstice. For ancient Germanic and Celtic people, the impulse to celebrate solstice was a celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life. These northern cultures survived a colder, darker winter and thus held a great celebration. This was held at the turning of the year on the shortest day – December 21 – which heralds the return of the sun’s light and warmth.

Many ancient traditions surrounding Yuletide are concerned with coping with the darkness and evils. In Shetland, there is still an Annual Up Helly Aa Viking style celebration of mid winter where a procession takes place throughout the town ending in a longboat being set alight in the harbour. Holly Evergreens were cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly is prickly and will see off evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.

The Julbukk, or Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, carried the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge. In Iceland the giant Yule Cat eats humans who have not contributed to the community’s work. Other Germanic, Scandinavian, Viking and Celtic traditions include mistletoe and the Evergreen tree – in many places, hung upside down; and there’s the famous Yule Log.

Other Non-Christian Gift Giving Festivals

Although Christmas is celebrated by many non-Christians, there are alternative winter gift-giving holidays instead of or in addition to Christmas.

  • Judaism’s Hanukkah has developed a tradition of gift-giving similar to Christmas.
  • Christmas has some acceptance in the Islamic world, where Jesus is regarded as a prophet. Additionally, the observance of Eid ul-Fitr is sometimes accompanied by greetings similar to traditional Christmas greetings.
  • Diwali is a Festival of Light in India and it is important to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Nepalese Buddhists. This involves decoration with lights and giving gifts.
  • Observances of the Kwanzaa festival, which reinforces African American heritage, are also celebrated in December with decorations, feasts, and gift-giving.
  • Many atheists and modern-day pagans celebrate the winter Solstice as an alternative to religious end-of-year holidays.

Eid ul-Fitr

Eid ul-Fitr often abbreviated as simply Eid, is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. On the day of the celebration, a typical Muslim family gets up very early and attends special prayers held only for the occasion in big mosques. The festivities and merriment start after the prayers with visits to the homes of friends and relatives and thanking the Creator for all blessings. Eid is a time to come together as a community and to renew friendship and family ties. This is a time for peace for all Muslims in the world to devote to prayers and mutual well-being.


Diwali is a major Indian and Nepalese festive holiday, and a significant religious festival for Hinduism , Jainism and Sikhism. It is celebrated as the “Festival of Light,” where lights or lamps are displayed to signify the victory of good over the evil. It may have originated as a harvest festival, marking the last harvest of the year before winter. In India, it is a national festival enjoyed by most regardless of faith. Homes are decorated with lights, fireworks are set off and sweets and gifts are given. Prayers are also said to various gods who are associated with the festival. The date, like Easter in Christian Faiths, is calculated and is usually around the end of October, beginning of November.


Hanukkah or Chanukah is a Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival or Feast of Lights. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication”. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, and the holiday is celebrated for eight days. The start of Hanukkah usually falls in December but occasionally is in late November. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of special Hanukkah lights on each of the festival’s eight nights. A special 8 limbed lamp is used which symbolises the lamp that remained lit for 8 days although only having oil for one.

Images © Edward Martin, Archive Services University of Dundee| Licensor Scran

Around the World in Eighty Days

8th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

When Scran first started, way back in 1997, it stood for Scottish Cultural Resources Archive Network. And if you’re reading this, you probably know that Scran is the go-to source for Scottish cultural and historical content, from the Roy Map to pictures of Sean Connery. But you may have also come across images, videos and sounds from other parts of the world while clicking around. This is no accident. Even though Scran is very much a Scottish-based and Scottish-focused website, we’ve always had one eye on the rest of the world. After all, the Scottish museums, archives, galleries and libraries that contribute to Scran don’t just collect and display Scottish artefacts- the Kelvingrove has a Dali painting, the National Museums of Scotland have French advertising posters, while the Scottish National Galleries have great collections of Italian coins.  In addition, Scran is proud to host amazing images from around the world by Scottish photographers such as Gerry McCann.

Perhaps the most prolific Scottish photographer on Scran is Cairns Aitken. We were first introduced to Cairns about 5 years ago, when he was looking for a home for his huge number of digitised photos on a number of diverse subjects, from buildings to wildlife to art, all taken in the last 50 years. These were taken all over the world, during his employment as an academic physician/psychiatrist, from South Africa in the 1950s to Crete, Hong Kong and Costa Rica in more recent times.

We’re continuing to add more material to Cairns’ existing content on Scran, and from December to February, we’re planning to highlight his diverse imagery on Scran in a series of tweets via @Scranlife, one per day, for 80 days. Look out for the hashtag #AroundTheWorldIn80Days to see images from Russia, Qatar, Canada, Morocco, Nepal, Ecuador and beyond.

Bird of Paradise

© Cairns Aitken. Licensor


Dunbar Bricks & Heritage Angels

5th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


Mark Cranston – Heritage Angel Award Winner

Some of you may have heard about the recent Scottish Heritage Angel Awards? Here at Scran we caught wind of the fascinating work of Mark Cranston, who proceeded to win Category A for Investigating & Recording his extensive collection of bricks.

Scran has a pile of brick related content, which Mark was already familiar with, and through a series of fortunate events, we were able to contribute to his ever growing collection. East Lothian resident, Gina Williams, donated the brick which Scran then delivered to Jedburgh.


The brick was from a Dunbar manufacturer and although he already had an example of a M.B. Sherriff brick, he had not seen this particular variation. One face on each has a shallow rectangular ‘frog’ or depression with text MB SHERRIFF/ DUNBAR and impressions of screw-heads.


Invoice, Seafield Brick and Tile Works, 1868

Seafield Brick & Tile Works at West barns, near Dunbar, supplied the local market as well as special commissions in Scotland and abroad.  These bricks were made using deposits of surface clay; originally dark grey, the clay becomes red when fired, a change caused by the oxidation of iron contained in the clay. The Seafield brickworks operated from the early eighteen hundreds on land reclaimed from the sea between West Barns and Belhaven. Once in the hands of David France, it passed to William Brodie and then his relatives, the Sherriffs of West Barns. William Brodie, invested in new equipment and expanded the works, exporting many of the products on his own fleet of steam vessels from Dunbar Harbour.

Unusually for a Victorian industrialist, M.Brodie Sherriff  was a woman. In 1884 she purchased & re-opened the brickworks at Westbank, in Portobello, so expanding the business further.


Seafield Brickworks, West Barns – surface clay pits

Nineteenth century East Lothian had a number of industrial scale plants producing bricks, tiles, pipes and other large scale ceramics. Seafield relied upon surface deposits of clay. Later, the abandoned clay pits were used to dump municipal waste and landfill until around 1970. Then the land was landscaped and planted; part was reserved for amenity, being integrated into the John Muir Country Park in 1976.


You can see the full extent of Mark Cranston’s collection of bricks





Images ©  Mark Cranston, Scran & East Lothian Museums Service| Licensor Scran

Saint Andrew – Patron Saint of Scotland

28th November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

078834 (1)The St Andrew’s flag – or the Saltire – is flown all over Scotland. Until recently, the man and his day have been often neglected. However, celebrations for St Andrew’s Day on the 30th November are growing in popularity and it is now a recommended public holiday in Scotland.

Who was St Andrew?

Andrew and his brother (Simon) Peter were fishermen from Bathsaida on the Sea of Galilee. While living in Capernaum they became disciples of John the Baptist, who introduced Andrew to Jesus of Nazareth. Andrew recognised Jesus as the Messiah and became the first Apostle. He then introduced Peter to Jesus, “Come with Me, and I will make you fishers of men”

After the crucifixion of Jesus, Andrew traveled to Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Southern Russia. He became a missionary, telling people about the life Jesus had led. While he was preaching at Patras/Pátrai in Greece he offended the Roman governor (possibly for baptising his wife). He was then tied (not nailed) to an X-shaped cross, where he continued to preach for two days before dying on the 30th of November.

The majority of his bones were taken to the Church of Holy Apostles in Constantinople around 375 AD, when it was the capital of the (Christian) Roman Empire. It was during this time that some of his remains were taken to Scotland. In 1206 they were moved to the Cathedral of St Andrew in Amalfi in Italy by Cardinal Pietro of Capua. However in 1964 they were returned to Patras by Pope Paul VI. They now lie in the Church of Saint Andrew.

What were his associations with Scotland?045335

At some point during the 730s some of St Andrew’s relics were brought to the Fife coast. This is widely credited to St Rule (Regulus). In the legend, an angel comes to St Rule in a dream, asking him to take the bones of St Andrew to the ends of the earth. He arrived on the Fife coast by boat (possibly shipwrecked) bearing a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap, and some fingers of the Saint. A chapel was then built to house the relics, and the town of St Andrews was founded. There is however little evidence to prove the validity of this version of events.

A more plausible explanation involves Acca, the Bishop of Hexam. He was a renowned relic collector and could have bought them after they arrived in England with St Augustine. When Bishop Acca sought asylum in Scotland in 732 he took the bones with him to Kirrymont, later renamed St Andrews.

St Andrews

The bones were initially stored in St Rule’s Church, but were transferred to the cathedral in the 14th century. Twice a year the relics were carried in procession around the town. Cathedral and church bells rang and in the evening there were bonfires and fireworks.

St Andrews became the religious capital of Scotland and an important place of pilgrimage. Around the middle of the tenth century he became the patron saint of Scotland. In the 11th century, Saint Margaret, Queen Consort to Malcolm the Third, provided a free ferry across the Forth Estuary (now known as North and South Queensferry) and housing for pilgrims to the relics. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath recognised St Andrew as Scotland’s patron saint.

On the 14th of June 1559, John Knox and his followers arrived in the City of St Andrews. They entered the cathedral and proceeded to remove all valuable items. At this point, the relics of St Andrew (along with many other important historical artefacts) were lost. This was done to aid the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Scotland became a Protestant country in 1560, with the aid of Queen Elizabeth of England.

There are currently two relics of St Andrew in Scotland. They are kept in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, at the National Shrine to St Andrew. The first was given as a gift from the Archbishop of Amalfi to the Archbishop of Strain in 1879, after the restoration of Catholic Emancipation in 1793. The second was given to the newly created Scottish Cardinal (the first in 400 years) Gordon Joseph Gray by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

The Saltire46

St Andrew is usually portrayed carrying an X-shaped cross. As legend would have it, St Andrew appeared in a dream to the Pictish King Angus in the 800s. In the dream, St Andrew gave him advice on the forthcoming battle of Athelstaneford against the Northumbrians. When that battle took place, the cross of St Andrew’s appeared in the sky, leading to a Scottish victory. King Angus adopted it as his flag to commemorate that day, but it was not until 1540 that the Saltire was officially adopted in the form we see today. Before that, various forms of the Saltire were used, including on military uniforms from 1385.

The St Andrew’s cross and the Cross of St George were combined to form the Union flag of Great Britain. With the addition of Northern Ireland the final Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was formed.

The 30th of November

The 30th of November is a celebration of “everything that is good about Scotland”, with ceilidhs, haggis suppers, and general whisky drinking. In the town of St Andrews, a week long festival is held in celebration. However St Andrew’s day celebrations are a relatively new development. It has always been celebrated by Scots and their descendants living abroad, but a survey by Famous Grouse revealed that only 20% of Scottish residents knew when St Andrew’s Day was (compared with 64% for Burns night). The Scottish Government declared that from 2007 St Andrew’s day would be a public holiday, although not a statutory one. St Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Russia, and Romania.

Images ©  Crown Copyright Historic Scotland & Cairns Aitken  | Licensor Scran

Robert Louis Stevenson

21st November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

02050089Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most famous Scottish writers of the 19th century, perhaps his best known works being Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Body Snatcher & Kidnapped.

Early Years

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13 1850 in Edinburgh to parents Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Balfour. The Stevenson family were already well known as Thomas and his father, Robert Stevenson, were both famous lighthouse designers and engineers. From them, Robert Louis inherited his adventurous nature that would stimulate his imagination and spark his interest in literature. As a child Robert was severely ill due to a weakness in his lungs which he inherited from his mother. His health improved with age and after a troublesome time at Edinburgh Academy he entered Edinburgh University at the age of seventeen. Lacking the necessary approach for engineering, he instead pursued law and was called to the bar at twenty-five. This was a reserve plan to fall back on should his true passion – literature – fail.

The Traveller

rcahms1a_00998241A man who saw great romance and art in all aspects of life, Stevenson decided to travel. This was most likely in search of better health but also for adventure. As a writer, he craved stimulation for his imagination and he created notes of all he saw. His travels took him to Grez-Doiceau, Belgium and France where he visited Nemours and Paris often. A canoe trip in 1878 inspired his travelogue An Inland Voyage and later Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. He also wrote a number of articles and essays to generate income. Two years before this, he had met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, an American divorcee, in France and fallen in love. A few months later she returned home and fell ill. When the news reached him, Stevenson, against the advice of his friends, departed for San Francisco. The journey from New York to California almost killed him. However, it inspired his works An Amateur Immigrant and Across the Plains. He eventually arrived in San Francisco with scarcely any money at all. By the end of winter 1879 his health declined once more. Fanny nursed him back to health.

Master of Literature

In May 1880 he and Fanny married. They would spend the next seven years seeking a suitable environment for his ever declining health. Having suffered so terribly in winter during his life, they would reside in Scotland and England during the warmer months, and spend winters in France . His greatest works were created in this period: Treasure Island, The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Kidnapped. He also published two volumes of poetry: A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods. Stevenson’s father died in 1887. In June 1888 Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and he and his family sailed around various locations. This period also saw the production of further work including: The Master of Ballantrae, The Bottle Imp and The South Seas.

The Latter Years

In 1890 Stevenson and his family mo06375482ved to the Samoan island of Upolu where he would live out his final years. He named his estate Vailima, meaning “Five Rivers”. His literary work and reputation was influential and the locals would consult him for advice. They named him the Tusitala – the Teller of Tales. His interaction with the locals led him to observe that European rule was less than benevolent and he published the highly critical A Footnote on History. Given his literary power, his work caused two officials to be recalled. As well as supporting the natives and building his estate, Stevenson published further works such as David Balfour and Ebb Tide. He also wrote the Vailima Letters in this period. With his health waning, Stevenson became depressed and concerned that his creativity was being exhausted. His spirit refused to succumb and he began his masterpiece, the Weir of Hermiston. He apparently remarked: “It’s so good that it frightens me.” He would not complete it. On December 3 1894, after working on his book, Stevenson collapsed in the company of his wife. He was 44 when he died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage. The natives surrounded his body and carried their Tusitala upon their shoulders to a cliff top where he was buried.

Imagery © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Historic Environment Scotland, Dundee Central Library –  Licensor Scran

SPAN – Forth Bridges Exhibition in Kirkcaldy, Fife

16th November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


Invitation to Forth Rail Bridge opening of 1890

Whenever Scran engages with the public, one of the most frequently asked questions is “What is the ‘Buy’ button under Scran records for?” For the most part our users can ignore it; all Scran subscribers are entitled to save, download and reuse any of our records for non-commercial purposes (and our institutional subscribers can share our records within and between institutions too). But what happens when you want to use Scran records in a commercial or public situation, one which isn’t covered by the above? When you’re publishing a magazine or a book, for example? Or creating an exhibition for the general public? That’s where the ‘Buy’ button comes in.

Clicking the button initiates a ‘licensing’ process, where the user tells us what they want to use the record (image, audio clip or video clip) for. Scran then gives the user a quote for usage, and the price for usage depends on how many times the record will be used, and where, and at what size; the price for using a large Scran image on the cover of a book that will be printed 100,000 times will be greater, for example, than that for a thumbnail image that will be reprinted on page 8 of a small circulation newsletter. The money raised by licensing materials in this way is split 50/50 between Scran and the owners of the materials.

One organisation that recently licensed a nimg_25141umber of Scran records in this way is Fife Cultural Trust, and Scran recently paid a visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries to see the resulting exhibition ‘SPAN- a Tale of Three Bridges + Kate Downie‘. It’s a great look at the history of the Forth Rail Bridge, the first Forth Road Bridge and the new road bridge that is due to open next year, and, in a separate gallery, there is a series of artistic responses by Kate Downie to the bridges themselves. In the first gallery, the history of the bridges, Scran images make up over 50% of the exhibition, and you can see some of the pictures that were used, in context, below. We especially like the large scale invitation for the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge, from National Museums Scotland- we think it looks great at such a scale. The exhibition continues until February 2017.

© Image: Forth Rail Bridge opening of 1890 from National Museums Scotland. Licensor


25th October 2016
by Scran

Day of the Dead

The 1st & 2nd November are the Days of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos, the annual festival in Mexico where families remember the dead. It is believed the souls of the departed return to the land of … Continue reading

The Slave Trade

11th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

06510051Anti-Slavery Day falls on 18th October each year. The slave trade in Africa began as early as 1450 and continued as late as the 20th century.

Trading African slaves began in order to service sugar plantations in Brazil and later the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century sugar was the most valuable import into England, and Scotland. Tobacco was the other main crop grown on plantations.

00880052The plantations required large numbers of strong manual workers who could withstand a hot, humid climate. On the plantations they were treated with systematic cruelty.

Slaves had long been regarded as high-status possessions, not humans,  in Europe and the presence of exotically dressed black attendants in many portraits demonstrates this attitude.


‘Tobacco Lord’ Glasgow

Abolitionist movements began to grow
across Europe in the late eighteenth century, and Britain banned the slave trade in 1807.

The trade was not abolished by the United States until 1865, however, and continued to be legal in Brazil until 1888, so the capture and abuse of African people by slave traders from Europe, America & Asia continued throughout the nineteenth century, despite the efforts of opponents like David Livingstone, and Josiah Wedgwood.

Contemporary human trafficking is a growing crime – around the globe people continue to be exploited in all sorts of inhumane ways, whether it’s sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced criminal activity, sham marriages and even organ removal.09626387





Image ©Glasgow University Library, National Museums Scotland & The Trustees of the British Museum| Licensor Scran

1791 ‘Currie Powder’ Recipe

10th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

07560042We thought we might whet your appetite for National Curry Week!

This page has been taken from recipe books written by Stephana Malcolm & it dates from 1791. This is one of five recipes for curry powder which she included in her recipe books. Ready-mixed curry powder was available in Britain at this period, but either Stephana Malcolm found it hard to get or she simply enjoyed making her own. Several Malcolm family members lived and worked in India and their influence is seen in the many Indian-inspired dishes in the recipe books from Burnfoot.

Stephana Malcolm clearly had curried dishes often enough that it was worth making powder in bulk. In this recipe she advises storing it in bottles and adding the wet ingredients, such as lemon juice and garlic, just before use. The National Library of Scotland holds a fascinating and valuable series of seven recipe books which survive from the Malcolm family. The earliest was started by Margaret Malcolm in 1782, several were then written by her daughter Stephana and her daughter-in-law Clementina, and the last in the series was written by Margaret’s great granddaughter, Mary Malcolm.

Image © National Library of Scotland | Licensor Scran

We Are Family (History)

5th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

Scran is a great complementary resource for people researching their family history. Our collections are chock full of stills, movies and sounds illustrating Scotland’s places and people. From births, deaths and marriages to schooldays, holidays and working lives.

Scran will be exhibiting at Fife Family History Fair on Saturday 8th October at Carnegie Conference Centre, Dunfermline.

Find out more about how to Get Into Scran.


Image © Aberdeen City Council, Almond Valley Heritage Trust, Douglas MacKenzie, East Lothian Museums Service, National Museums Scotland, Newsquest (Herald & Times) | Licensor Scran