WOMEN IN HISTORY SCOTLAND - Thistle and Dandelions' volunteering project -
(ILLUSTRATION MADE BY ROSA IANNELLO, "THE MERMAID OF PALERMO", GIANNI RODARI, who symbolizes the value of a woman in society).
On December 15th the volunteers of Thistle and dandelions’ project attended a meeting with Women in History Scotland. WHS was founded as the Scottish Women’s History Network in 1995. They have existed in their current form since 1998 and became Women’s history Scotland in 2004. Their aims are to encourage contact between all people interested in women’s and gender history in Scotland, whether in education, community groups, the media, or private research and study; to provide a forum
We were shared in the three smallest groups and I was in the ones with Rebecca Mason, a historian currently based at the University of Glasgow where she is a researcher. She is originally from Belfast – in Ireland, and she moved to Scotland in 2015. Rebecca joined Women’s History Scotland in 2018. She is mainly interested in women’s history in the early modern period and her research looks at women’s access to law in early modern Scotland. She is particularly interested in the hidden history of Glasgow’s women.
When I had read the CV of Dr. Mason I remember the story of May Donoughe, that I learned when I lived in Paisley. Also known as the "Paisley Snail" or "Snail In the Bottle" case, the case involved Mrs. May Donoghue drinking a bottle of ginger beer in a café in Paisley, Renfrewshire. Unknown to her or anybody else, a decomposed snail was in the bottle. She fell ill, and subsequently sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr. Stevenson. The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product's safety would lead to harm to consumers. There was also a sufficiently proximate relationship between consumers and product manufacturers.
Prior to Donoghue v Stevenson, liability for personal injury in tort usually depended upon showing physical damage inflicted directly (trespass to the person) or indirectly (trespass on the case). Being made ill by consuming a noxious substance did not qualify as either, so the orthodox view was that Mrs. May Donoghue had no sustainable claim in law. However, the decision fundamentally created a new type of liability in law that did not depend upon any previously recognized category of tortious claims. This was an evolutionary step in the common law for tort and delict, moving from strict liability based upon direct physical contact to a fault-based system that only required injury. This evolution was taken further in the later decision of Letang v Cooper  1 QB 232 when it was held that actions should not be jointly pleaded in trespass and negligence but in negligence alone.
Another thing it dawned on me during the preparation of this workshop was a course during my University of Modern History where we research into the archives of the city Torino the request to take part in the dowry of the women during century 1500. It was so interesting because from these documents we discovered other ways of life of the past, such as the architecture of the houses, the habits to breastfeed children until 3 years old to prevent pregnancy, and many more.
At the beginning of the workshop, we had the pleasure to welcome Valerie Wright, Hannah Telling, and Rebecca Mason, talking with them about Christmas and New Year celebrations in Scotland. In 1583 the Glasgow kirk at St. Mungo’s cathedral banned those who celebrated YULE, whilst elsewhere in Scotland, even singing a Christmas carol was considered a serious crime.
YULE is a festival historically observed by the Germanic people. Yule comes from a name for a 12-day festival, celebrated by Germanic people, around the winter solstice in December and January. Christmas can refer to December 25th itself, but it can also refer to the whole Christmas season. Other terms for the Christmas season are CHRISTMASTIME and CHRISTMASTIDE, where tide refers to an old term meaning “a season in the course of the year, day, etc. “ Yule can work the same way: Yule can refer to both Christmas and the broader Christmas season, which can also be called Yuletide. You can call Christmas Yule and Christmastime yuletide, but you wouldn’t call Christmas day itself yuletide. Many Americans associate yuletide with singing carols, a tradition also known as wassailing. The celebration of Christmas day was banned in Scotland in 1640. The Scottish word to indicate the last day of the year is HOGMANAY.
The word HOGMANAY is thought to have first been used widely following Mary Queen of Scots’ return to Scotland in 561. According to the director of the Centre for Nordic Studies at Orkney and Shetland College UHI, this is the first recorded in dictionaries. It is of doubtful origin and may come from the French word: HOGINANE (gala day).
In Scotland, special attention is given to the first-foot, which refers to the first guest of the New Year. A first footer is the first guest to arrive at home after midnight, and traditionally fitted a certain "type".
"It had to be a tall dark stranger," said Dr. Heddle.
"This may go back to the time of Vikings when the arrival of a blond stranger at your door would be the cause of fear and alarm."
She added: "First footing is a tradition that has been falling out of fashion. People are staying in to watch the telly, or are going to street parties and not then going out first footing.
Symbolic gifts to present for good luck are salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and “black bun” cake.
The salt is a symbol of friendship.
The coal symbolizes heating, whisky is a symbol of good cheer and hospitality, black and bun cake and shortbread are a wish to have good food in the coming year.
Another favorite tradition in the Uk is the Christmas crackers. They were first made in about 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker called TOM SMITH. He had seen the French ”bonbon” sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840. He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England and also included a small motto or riddle in with the sweet. But they didn’t sell very well. In 1861 Tom Smith launched his new range of what he called “Bangs of expectation”.
Legend says that one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested in the sparks and cracks coming from the fire. Suddenly, he thought what a fun idea it would be if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half. However, looking into the history of the Tom Smith company, this story was probably added to help sell his new items. Crackers were also nicknamed called COSAQUES and were thought to be named after the Cossack’soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air.
When Tom died, his expanding cracker business was taken over by his three sons, Tom, Walter, and Henry. Walter introduced the hats into crackers and he also traveled around the world looking for new ideas for gifts to put in the crackers. The company built up a big range of “themed” crackers. There were ones for bachelors and spinsters, where the gifts were things like false teeth and wedding rings” There were also crackers for Suffragettes, war heroes, and even Charlie Chaplin! Cracker were also made for special occasions like Coronations. The British Royal Family still has special crackers made for them today! Very expensive crackers were made ass the “Millionaire’s crackers’ which contained a solid silver box with a piece of gold and silver jewelry inside it! The Christmas crackers that are used today are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper. There is normally a Cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled – with a bang! – a colorful party hat, a toy or gift, and a festive joke falls out! The party hats look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolize the crowns that might have been worn by the Wise Men. Crackers are famous for very bad jokes, such as: what do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas QUACKER! Where do elves get to dance? Christmas balls!
The discussion in the meeting continued in 3 smaller groups. We were asked to describe our Christmas during a pandemic if it will affect our spirit and how we will spend this time of the year: it will be different from the Christmas of our childhood?
Some of us said that Christmas means love. Jesus shows us to share the love. They argued that in Nigeria during Christmastime they used to share pounded yam and soup with neighbors, no bother if they are strangers or not. It depends on your understanding of Christmas. It was remarkable that also Muslims recognized Christmas as a time of light, joy, and sharing good vibes. Pandemic will give a chance to each of us to establish new traditions here in Glasgow, melting the old with new ones.
Personally, when I was a child Christmas was sad because I was divided between mommy and daddy and their families – since my parents divorced. Currently, Christmas is not an end but a beginning. Since Christmas, I would teach Chikaima Maitea and Chimamanda Lavinia every day a Rabbie Burn’s poem, until his birthday on January 25th. We started listening many times a day AULD LANG SYNE, a wonderful song well=known all over the world. If you know When Harry met Sally, you can remember Harry’s declaration at the end of the famous movie because the soundtrack was Rabbie Burn’s song!
Most of us will celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay many times through technology to share the moments with our friends and relatives all over the world.
Indeed, Christmas is celebrating not just on December 25th. Some Orthodox will celebrate Christmas on January 7th, following the Alexandrian calendar.
I will leave on it the link of the explanation of the most popular Scottish song around the world, Auld Lang Syne, wishing to all of you an amazing end of this 2020 and a brilliant 2021!