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New display on Christmas past

A fascinating insight into how Scots celebrated Christmas, or were prevented from doing so, over more than 400 years is being presented at a new exhibition.

Archivists at the National Records of Scotland have uncovered documents, dating to the 1500s, that shed light on how attitudes to Yuletide celebrations have changed through the ages.

The documents, photos and artefacts are now going on show at a free display in Edinburgh.

Part of the exhibition reveals how Christmas celebrations were an illicit pleasure in post-Reformation Scotland, with the kirks seeking to punish festive revellers.

In December 1574, St Nicholas Kirk session in Aberdeen scolded 14 women for "plaing, dansink, and singin off filthy karrells on youll day", the oldest document in the exhibition shows.

In those days, December 25 was treated as a normal working day and traditional festivities were considered "popish superstitions". The following year, in 1575, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland abolished "all days that here-tofore have been kept holy except the sabbath day, such as Yule day, saints' day and such others".

However, a century on, the Church's view of Yuletide celebrations was apparently being flouted.

By 1694, Alexander, Lord Montgomery wrote on Christmas Eve to invite Sir William Cunninghame of Cunninghamehead to join him "the morow to keep Crisinmass", explaining that he hoped to "eate ane gouse that day".

Audrey Robertson, acting keeper of the records, said: "This free display gives a timely and fascinating insight into how the way Scots celebrate Christmas has changed through the ages and the restrictions that have prevented people from enjoying the festivities in the past."

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