December 2012

In this Issue:

 History of Christmas in Scotland  Coming Events
 The Evolution of the Kilt  December Celebrations
 Santa Claus is from Edinburgh  Society Officers
 Know the Clans  Best Ever Christmas Cake

The History of Christmas in Scotland

Like many ancient races, particularly those in the northern parts of the world where winter days were short and the nights long, the pagan Celts had celebrations around the time of the winter solstice, in part to brighten the darkest days, in part to pacify the gods to allow the sun to return.  In Norse mythology, Odin, the gift-bringer, swept across the night sky in a horse drawn chariot (sounds like Santa's sleigh).  The Christian Church took over the Celts festival and kept some of the pagan traditions to make it easier for the Celts to accept and adopt the Christian ways of thinking.

One tradition that was kept is burning the Yule Log.  Yule comes from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival Yule. Also Druids believed kissing under the mistletoe ensured fertility, protected against the ill effects of witchcraft and when enemies met under mistletoe, they were to put down their weapons and call a truce until the next day.  They also brought a live tree into the home and decorated it and kept it safe from the harshness of winter.

During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century these traditions were frowned upon by the Kirk, regarding Christmas as too popish a festival.  Charges were brought on people for keeping Yule in Scotland.  This lasted for 400 years before celebrations were once again allowed.  To this day, Hogmanay (celebration of the New Year) is still a more celebrated festival in Scotland than Christmas. 

Historians believe we inherited Hogmanay from the Vikings.  Hogmanay is three days long, starting with the cleaning of the house, taking all the old ashes from the hearth and settling all old debts before the bells toll at midnight on Dec. 31st so all could start the New Year fresh.  And Scotland is the only part of the UK that has a holiday on Jan 2nd as well as Jan. 1st …so everyone can recover from the excesses of Dec. 31st.   

We have decided to retain our traditional meeting day of the SECOND Thursday of each month at 6:30 pm at the Irish Cultural Center located at 1106 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix. Thus the January meeting will be on January 10th. Come join us, or log on to

The Evolution of the Kilt - the Feilidh beag
By Matthew A.C. Newsome, FSA Scot, GTS (Guild of Tartan Scholars)

We began last time with the development of the kilt with a treatment of the feilidh-mhor—literally "large wrap", the grandfather of our modern kilt.  This time the topic will be the father of the kilt, the feilidh-beag—the "little wrap".

Whereas the old feilidh-mhor was made up of four yards of material, (more or less) that was some 60 inches wide, gathered into folds and belted at the waist, the feilidh-beag was simply the lower half of this garment.  Still some four yards long, the feilidh-beag was made from a single width of tartan cloth, usually 25 to 30 inches wide, gathered into folds and belted at the waist.  The bottom would come to the knees and the top few inches would overlap the belt and keep the whole thing securely in place.

The feilidh-beag name, often Anglicized as "phillabed" is a "little wrap" compared to its ancestor the feilidh-mhor.  However, the original feilidh-beag was not a tailored kilt at all.  Like its ancestor it was loosely gathered and not formally pleated.  The pleating was certainly not stitched down.  At certain times one might have seen a feilidh-beag with the pleats tacked in at the waist only, but by and large it was a completely untailored garment. 

Much speculation has taken place about the origin of the feilidh-beag.  We know for certain that by the time of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, it was in fairly common usage.  The oft-repeated tale of the origin of the feilidh-beag involves an Englishman named Thomas Rawlinson.

According to the story, shortly after the year 1715, Rawlinson came to Glengarry to manage an iron foundry.  He took to wearing the Highland dress and had a great fondness for it.  One day he was visited by a soldier/tailor named Parkinson.  Mr. Parkinson observed one of the Highland workers sit down by the fire in his wet and steaming feilidh-mhor and asked why the gentleman did not take his cloak off.  When he was told that he could not, for it was of one piece with his kilt, Mr. Parkinson had the idea to separate the upper and lower halves of the garment, so that the upper part might be put aside and the wearer remain dressed.

Within two days Rawlinson was wearing the feilidh-beag.  It was apparently such a hit that the style was adopted by the chief of the MacDonells of Glengarry, and so the fashion spread. Of course many Scots take exception to the notion that an English tailor may have had any hand in the development of the kilt!  And indeed there may be some evidence to suggest the feilidh-beag was in use some time previous to this.

I, for one, see no reason to doubt the Rawlinson story.  It seems fairly well documented and entirely plausible.  However, I also see no reason to believe that this was the first ever occurrence of the feilidh-beag.  After all, we know that the old feilidh-mhor was actually made from two single-width lengths of cloth stitches together in the middle.  So, the invention of the feilidh-beag does not so much involve cutting the feilidh-mhor in half as it does neglecting to sew the two lengths together.

It only makes sense.  The large feilidh-mhor is perfect for outdoor pursuits, especially in the inclement Highland weather.  But for indoor activity, especially around machinery, it is far too cumbersome.  The feilidh-beag is simply more practical.  So as the Highlands became more industrialized (and men took to work in places such as iron foundries) their mode of dress shifted. 

Santa Claus is from Edinburgh

It is well known that Clement Moore was the author of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas which was published in 1822.  This poem, now more familiarly called, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," was largely responsible for the concept of Santa Claus, including his appearance, mode of transportation, number and names of his reindeer and the tradition that he brings toys to children.  But it was Thomas Nast who invented the image now recognized as Santa Claus.  Nast first drew Santa for the 1862 Christmas season  Harper's Weekly cover to memorialize the family sacrifices of the Union during the early, darkest days of the Civil War.  Nast's Santa appeared as a kindly figure representing Christmas, thus giving life to Moore's description.

But it was a Scottish emergent, James Edgar, who has been credited with being the one who first came up with the idea of dressing up as Santa Claus for Christmas.  He started the tradition in 1890 in his Massachusetts department store.

James Edgar was born in Edinburgh in 1843 but moved to Brockton, Massachusetts in 1878 to escape the poverty of his childhood.  He set up a department store and became known for his philanthropy, especially to children whom he loved.  He was often seen walking around his store dressed as a clown, a sea captain or even George Washington to amuse the children.  Then in 1890, inspired by the drawings by Thomas Nast, Edgar began dressing up as Santa Claus, the first appearance of an actual Santa anywhere.  Edgar's Santa became so popular that, within days of his first appearance, children traveled from miles around to see him.

Edgar died in 1909 but his legacy lives on.   Years after his death, a city park was named for him.  In 2008 a plaque was placed at the corner of Main and Centre streets in Brockton, noting his achievements and he was inducted as a charter member into the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in Santa Claus, Indiana.   

Know the Clans:
What's in a Name?
By Ron Dempsey, FSA Scot

Brian - Bryant

Brian is a personal name and it has many forms, Bryand, Briand, Brient, Bryant to name a few.  It also has mixed origins.  One form of the name originated in Brittany as a personal name that came to England with the Norman invasion.  Radulfus filius Brien was recorded in 1086.  Another form is the more famous Irish surname O'Brien which was probably Anglicized to such forms as Bryant.  The Irish name Brian was likely borrowed by the Vikings and brought to northern England often in the form of "Brjan."  There was much Viking travel between Northern Ireland over the centuries and this family may have crossed to Ireland sometime in the 17th century.


Swinton was a Saxon family that was found on the border of Scotland and England.  They originated in Northumberland when that area was a kingdom.  Eadulf, a vassal of Alfred the Great is purported to be the ancestor of the house.  It is most likely a generic toponym for swine farm, but tales have it for an act of bravery for when a progenitor of the name cleared the area of dangerous wild boars.  The surname is documented in a grant of land by King David I in 1140, later confirmed in the reign of William the Lion who died in 1214.

As with all Scottish nobility, Henry de Swintone is found on the Ragman Roll, the record that had Scottish nobility submit to Edward I when he traveled throughout Scotland gathering their fealty.  Henry's great grandson was Sir John Swinton and was a leader at the Battle of Otterburn.  The 23rd lair lost his lands as a result of supporting Cromwell but they were returned to his son.


The Best Ever Christmas Cake
1 cup of butter 1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of sugar 1 cup of brown sugar
4 large eggs    1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 cup of diced fruit 1 bottle of whiskey
1   Sample the whisky to check for quality.
2 Take a large bowl.  Check the whisky again. 
  Pour 1 cupful and drink
3 Turn on electric mixer. 
  Beat 1 cup of butter until the bowl is fluffy
  Add one spoontea of sugar and beat again.
4   Make sure the whiskky is still OK.
5 Break 2 leggs and add to the fluffy bowl. 
  Chuck in the dried fruit.  Check the whiskky again.
6   Sift 2 cups salt or is it flour? Who cares? Check the whiskkkky.
7 Add one ballspoon of brown sugar or what ever color you
  have.  Wix mell.
8 Turn the cake pan to 350 gedrees.  Finish off the whiskkkkkky
8 Go to bed.
NOTE We take no responsibility for what might happen, either
  during the preparations or after eating this cake.

Coming Events

December 13 Annual Holiday Potluck - Irsh Cultural Center
  Bring your favorite dish to share in Holiday spirit
December 25    Merry Christmas
December 31 Happy Hogmanay
January 1 Happy New Year
January 10 Membership Meeting - "Dance Your Way to
  Robbie Burns" - come learn of few simple Scottish
  dances to be ready for the Burns Supper event
February 2 Burns Supper - Fiesta Inn - Tempe

December Celebrations
We are attempting to up-date our Celebration list to add information for new members and remove those from the list that are no longer relevant. If you are a dues-paying member or just a “friend” of the Society and would like your special date recognized in our monthly newsletter, we need to hear from you. Please let us know your correct birthday and anniversary information by email to and it will be included in our Celebration list.

December 1 John & Lori Steadman - Anniversary
December 2  Don Hoeck - Birthday
December 9   Karen Murdock - Birthday
December 27 Paul & Genie Smith - Anniversary
December 30 Edna McDonald - Birthday

Caledonian Society Officers
Area Chairperson
President: (2012 – 2014) Wendy Hurley
Past President: (2010 – 2012) Jean Latimer
1st Vice President: Mark Clark
Games Chair
Jason Temple
Membership and Programs Chair Don Finch
Treasurer: Alex Cheek
Secretary: Corresponding and Recording Michael Fraiser
Trustee: Mark Pelletier
Trustee: Andy Walker
Newsletter Editor: Jo Ramsdell