Symbols of nationhood?

Following the recent wedding of one of the conference organisers, it seemed appropriate to reflect on some marital symbols of Britishness. Writers have drawn attention to the ‘invention of tradition’, not least through the example of the Scottish kilt, are such symbols really of less value for being invented?

A Scottish wedding – such as the one celebrated by one of us last week – guarantees a fine display of tartan. It seems such weddings become as much a celebration of all things Scottish as they are a celebration of the nuptials. There will be a Highland piper, most likely plenty of thistles and a ceilidh (which will probably end with a communal singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘500 Miles’ by the Proclaimers, or the faux-Jacobite song ‘Loch Lomond’ by Runrig). In celebrating their marriage, many Scottish couples seem to call upon accepted and cherished notions of Scottish nationhood.

Leaving aside Walter Scott, it is interesting to ask why this is. Are there equivalents elsewhere in Britain, where personal relationships are marked not just by religious or civic traditions, but by displays of national or regional identity? In Northumberland, a black and white chequered tartan kilt is worn by some grooms and wedding guests, suggesting a culture and identity unique to the North East of England but which is also influenced by Scottish tradition.

If you look closely at the photograph above, the man dressed in the Scottish kilt and plaid is wearing a ribbon of English Northumberland tartan as part of his buttonhole. Is he Britishness personified?


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