There’s nothing quite like a wedding to immerse you into a new country headfirst. Rich in traditions, societal norms and cultural pride, a marriage celebration gives you a taster of the best of what is to come. Three days after my departure from New York I attended my first Scottish wedding, and I jumped right in.
Mark and I have been talking of coming to Scotland for a long time. He had been away over two years and for some time we discussed coming for my winter break from school to spend Hogmany in Edinburgh, but in the end we moved back the date so we could be here for this wedding of two of Mark’s closest childhood friends. It was worth the wait!
Dressing The Part
I’ve attended, and stood up in, a few weddings and then went on to work in the wedding industry in various positions, so I consider myself pretty well versed in proper etiquette and acceptable behavior. But when it came to what to wear to this wedding I was flummoxed, and Mark was of little help, as apparently he hasn’t spent his youth watching the UK equivalent to “Say Yes To The Dress.”
Those that know me in real life are rolling their eyes as they spent weeks listening to me proliferate on whether its appropriate to wear black, whether I should wear a fascinator, and what formality is appropriate for a wedding that starts at 1pm but stretches into the night. In the end I brought two completely separate outfits in my already overstuffed backpack in the hopes that the Scottish air would bring me clarity. The morning of I threw on my more casual but all black outfit, as I got shy about putting on a satin bedazzled dress at 11am. Mark went with a skirt.
Just kidding. It’s a kilt. And did those boys look sharp! I didn’t think anything could top a Mad Men style skinny suit and tie in my mind but I think I may be a convert now. The bridal party wore a modern grey ensemble while guests wore their family tartans. Mark had two to choose from, but landed on his grandmother’s Lindsay tartan.
And following my tradition of finding everything in Scotland to be “charming” I even had to get a picture of the kiltmakers where Mark rented the kilt. Quainter than a Tuxego, no?
Once I arrived at the wedding I realized I could have worn either dress as there was a range of formalities, and in fact I may have been better with the blue as everyone people went super bright and colorful for this summer wedding.
But I loved my pick, a Betsy Johnson ballerina dress with a full, lacy skirt, and also a gift from my Mom for Valentine’s Day.
My one regret? Not wearing something in my hair! I had known that it was tradition for older women to wear beautiful hats and younger women to wear little feathers or fascinators, but in the end I chickened out again. And what a shame! Lesson learned: take every opportunity to wear feathers in your hair. Lucky for me, one of Mark’s friends let me borrow her hat for a while when I was having head décor envy. I was too shy to ask strangers to take their photos (working on it!) but I did take a picture of one of the in-room wedding magazines with at least 20 pages of hat ads. I love this tradition!
Location, Location, Location
The wedding was held in the seaside resort town of Largs, just twenty minutes from our current homebase in Irvine. The town is located right along the water and oozes with charm. It’s also the location of the Brisbane House, a modern hotel and event space perfect for a young couple tying the knot.
As we approached the hotel we were met with another reminder that we weren’t in Kansas anymore: a bagpiper! I love the sound of bagpipes, so regal and elegant. They make you feel like something momentous is about to happen.
Walking into the hotel, you could tell right away it was going to be a beautiful event!
After all the drama of what to wear to blend in and arriving in one piece, I almost forgot what we were there for- a wedding! I was curious to see how a Scottish wedding would differ from an American one, aside from my already established hat envy. I was also dying to see all the handmade details; this wedding was it was a true group effort. One of the bride’s friends designed her dress and the groom’s mother made it, while one of the groomsmen and his girlfriend volunteered to sing at the reception and another of the bride’s friends baked cupcakes. I love it! I’m not saying that I went to art school solely for the talented friend base I would develop, but its certainly not a drawback.
Saying I Do
While an outdoor wedding ceremony isn’t exactly practical for rain soaked Scotland, we were about as close as you could get with the alter set up in front of a full glass wall facing the ocean. All the childhood friends who had come from far and wide who were chatting away and catching up fell silent as the bride walked in to bagpipes.
The ceremony, while quite short, was very similar to a secular American ceremony. The highlight was the reading of the vows which the bride and groom had written themselves. Though I had only just met the couple I was touched by their words.
Lastly the couple signed the marriage register and as they retreated back down the aisle the guest threw confetti and popped party poppers in the air. Here’s a tip to other UK wedding newbies: It’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Confetti). Luckily my hands were full with my camera anyway!
Cocktails and Ice Cream
After the ceremony we were ushered out to the patio for my favorite surprise of the day: an old fashioned ice cream truck! I breezed right by the vodka slushies and went with the kids straight for the ice cream. I went a little crazy over the apple pie flavor and may or may not have had seconds. Delicious!
While we were on the patio stuffing our faces, the bridal party was on the lawn having their formal portraits taken. At least they were trying, as the children in the wedding party were having none of it. Have I mentioned there is nothing cuter than babies in kilts?
We were able to wrangle the children of the bride and groom for one adorable photo each. They were so well behaved during the ceremony!
And while everyone else was hamming it up for the camera, we stole away for one more portrait ourselves.
With all the modeling and ice cream eating we had worked up a real appetite. Heading back inside for dinner we spotted the clever seating display. Each table was named after a Scottish tartan and we were sitting at the best table of all- Boyd!
Taking a seat at the Boyd tartan table, we settled in to soak up the atmosphere. The reception room was stunning. I was happy to be seated with some of Mark’s oldest friends, all of whom I had never met before. Your family and friends say so much about you as a person, and I’m happy to say Mark has passed the test!
The perfect favor for a Scottish wedding? Perhaps a Scotch whiskey?
Once we were seated we jumped back up again to greet the new Mr. and Mrs., led in together by the bagpiper, who was starting to look a wee bit out of breath. (Look at me, using my new Scottish lingo!)
After the grand entrance the couple went straight to cutting the cake, part of which the bride made herself! I am a baking lover myself but I don’t know if even I would attempt such a feat. Very impressive.
After a wonderful dinner where I solidified my love for my new favorite Scottish meal, steak pie, the party really got going. This was when I started to realize the benefits of kilts: they look great when dancing. And dance everyone did! I realized that no matter what country you are in, there is one crucial ingredient to a great party: a packed dance floor.
The end of the night came far too soon as the DJ announced the last song. An unfamiliar song began playing as everyone circled around the bride and groom.
The tempo grew faster as the energy grew stronger and soon the entire room was singing along and dancing proudly to The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.
- By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes
- Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond
- Where me and my true love will ne-er meet again
- On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.
- O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low (road)
- And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
- For me and my true love will ne-er meet again
- On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’.
- ‘Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen
- On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomon’
- Where in (soft) purple hue, the hielan hills we view
- And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.
- The wee birdies sing and the wild flowers spring
- And in sunshine the waters are sleeping
- But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again
- Tho’ the world knows not how we are grieving
- The lyrics seem a bit morose reading them now, but the air in the room was anything but. Mark told me later that that moment made him feel proud to be Scottish. While I can’t claim the same as my passport reads USA, I did feel something, and I think it was happiness to be in that room at that moment surrounded by those people.
Happy wedding Lisa and Gio! It was an A+ kind of day.
To see the full set of photos from this wedding, check out my Flickr page here.