Saturday, December 7, 2013

Scottish Christmas Chants or Hails

CHRISTMAS chants also known as Hails were numerous and their recital common throughout Scotland. They are now disappearing with the customs they accompanied. Where they still linger their recital is relegated to boys. Formerly on Christmas Eve bands of young men went about from house to house and from townland to townland chanting Christmas songs. The band was called 'goisearan,' guisers, 'firduan,' song men, 'gillean Nollaig,' Christmas lads, 'nuallairean,' rejoicers, and other names. 

The 'rejoicers' wore long white shirts for surplices, and very tall white hats for mitres, in which they made a picturesque appearance as they moved along singing their loudest. Sometimes they went about as one band, sometimes in sections of twos and threes. When they entered a dwelling they took possession of a child, if there was one in the house. In the absence of a child, a lay figure was improvised. The child was called 'Crist, Cristean'--Christ, Little Christ. The assumed Christ was placed on a skin, and carried three times round the fire, sunwise, by the 'ceannsnaodh'--head of the band, the song men singing the Christmas Hail. The skin on which the symbolic Christ was carried was that of a white male lamb without spot or blemish and consecrated to this service. The skin was called 'uilim.' Homage and offerings and much rejoicing were made to the symbolic Christ. The people of the house gave the guisers bread, butter, crowdie, and other eatables, on which they afterwards feasted.

from the Carmina Gadelica

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