March 1 is Whuppity Scoorie in Lanark.
That sentence was entirely in English. Let’s take it apart.
Is is a verb. March 1 is a date. In is a preposition. A preposition is anything you can do in relation to a cloud: You can be in it, on it, under it, near it. Lanark is a town in Scotland–a royal burgh, to use its formal description. You can be in it or near it. It’s awkward to be on it or under it, but it’s not impossible. It has a population of 8,253 (or did at last count) and is 29 1/2 miles from Edinburgh and 325 miles from London.
In between all those words is a festival, Whuppity Scoorie, and if you hurry you still have time to go, which is why I’ve added an extra post this week. Welcome to another oddity of British culture.
A royal burgh? That’s a Scottish burgh with a royal charter under a law abolished in 1975. Which is sort of like giving directions by telling you to turn left where the cafe used to be, but history’s a powerful beast and the phrase lingers even if the law and the cafe are gone
A burgh? That’s an incorporated town. In Scotland.
Scotland? It’s that stretch of land covering the north of Britain.
We could keep this up all day but let’s move on. What’s Whuppity Scoorie?
To help explain that, a 2011 article in the Scotsman quotes the chair of the community council, who describes it as an “ancient ritual . . . despite the fact that nobody really knows when it started or what it means. But hey, it’s fun and it’s aye been.”
It’s aye been? That’s one of those things the Scots say to mess with the English. I’m American and easy to mess with, linguistically speaking, especially since Google translate won’t divulge the secret of what that means. But I dug deeper, with Lord Google’s permission, and found that it means it always has been.
And if it doesn’t, I’m sure someone will correct me.
Okay, you’ve stuck around long enough to prove that you’re serious, so let’s find out what happens at Whuppity Scoorie: The town’s kids run around the kirk (that’s the church) three times, going anti-clockwise and swinging paper balls around their heads on strings. At the end, the kids scramble for small coins scattered on the ground. Since it’s evening, the coins are hard to spot.
A man scattering scattering coins told the Scotsman, “I just keep walking. If you stop, you’re surrounded. Nothing against the kids, but I’ve seen vultures no as bad as this.”
What do people think it means? One local woman thought the ritual was pre-Christian and was meant to chase evil spirits to the neighboring village.
Good neighbors, those Lanarkians.
Did either town exist in pre-Christian times? Possibly. I can’t find a date for either place. The evil spirits have been chased onto the internet and they’ve taken the dates down.
Other people believe the ritual welcomes spring and still others that it mimics the seventeenth-century “practice of taking prisoners from the nearby Tolbooth and whipping them round the kirk before scouring them of their sins in the River Clyde.”
Another belief dates it to the nineteenth century, when Lanark kids would march over to New Lanark to throw stones at the kids there.
Like I said, good neighbors.
Lanark has two other yearly festivals. Het Pint started in 1662. It takes place on New Year’s Day and involves pensioners getting a free glass of mulled wine at the Tolbooth. Lanimer Day sounds like a carnival but it lasts five days.
It’s a very strange place, Britain. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.