How is a quaich used at a Scottish wedding?

The quaich, Scotland’s loving cup, has been used through the centuries to offer a welcoming drink at family occasions, and to friends and visitors. Traditionally, the two-handed design of this drinking vessel incorporates trust, on the part of both giver and receiver.

An additional ceremonial use of the quaich, humble or grand, can be found when it is incorporated as an integral part of a marriage ceremony. The most popular materials for quaichs used at weddings are pewter, silver, silver plate and wood. Size and design of the quaich are entirely up to personal preference.

The bride and groom may also decide to use quaichs as favours, or small gifts to friends and family who participate in their wedding celebrations. These quaichs, especially when personalised, then provide a cherished, permanent memento of the couple’s big day.

Incorporating a quaich into your wedding ceremony

The bride and groom could each hold the quaich handles for the other to drink from its contents. This symbolises togetherness and trust. The contents are left to individual tastes, though a fine single malt whisky would be the traditional choice. Alternatively, each of the participants could pour their own drink of choice into the vessel. Drinking from the new mixture would be symbolic of the new union of the married couple.

If either bride or groom does not drink alcohol, or if the quaich is to be passed around more widely, perhaps including children from either or both families, then a soft drink could be substituted for the spirit.

A further approach might be for the parents of the bride and groom to be involved. The groom’s parents could pass the quaich to the bride for her to drink, and vice versa, again as a way of welcoming each into the other’s family.

All of these alternatives serve to enhance the feelings of love and trust, and to allow participants in the celebration to feel included.

Quaich wedding ceremony

King James VI of Scotland started the tradition of wedding quaichs, when he married Anne of Denmark, in 1589.

Pewter quaich with heart shaped handles

Wedding celebrations now feature a ceremonial quaich used by the bride and groom to toast their union, and the gift of quaichs as mementoes of the big day.

Pewter quaich with elm bowl

Where do we include the quaich in the wedding ceremony?

Basically the order of the wedding ceremony is something which the bride and groom will agree with the celebrant, or other person who conducts the ceremony, and marries the happy couple. Mutual toasting from the ceremonial quaich can be done either just before, or just after, the couple say their vows to each other.

Some celebrants like to do the quaich ceremony just after the Signing of the Registry. This is also the perfect time for the celebrant to explain that the couple are now married, and that it’s customary for them to begin their married life by immediately sharing a drink from the quaich.

Bagpipers and the quaich wedding toast

A traditional Scottish wedding usually features a lone bagpiper, who processes the newly married couple into the reception hall after the wedding ceremony. The bagpiper should then be offered payment for his duties (“paying the piper”) which could be in cash, though that is less likely nowadays.

However, his payment also traditionally included a drink from the wedding quaich, after which the piper proposes a toast to the health of the newlyweds. This very Scottish custom is now more rare than it used to be, but it’s well worthy of consideration if it fits with the rest of your wedding arrangments.

In some celebrations, the quaich is then passed around the assembled throng – a reasonably sized quaich is therefore required! Each guest is then given the opportunity to raise a toast, or even sing a song or tell a short story, if the mood takes them!

Luckenbooth quaich

Quaichs as gifts for relatives and friends

Quaichs often feature as wedding gifts to the bride and groom,and to other family members to mark the occasion. The happy couple may also give them to their bridesmaids and groomsmen, and perhaps to other relatives and friends.

Some couples go further, and also present a small quaich to each wedding guest, as a permanent memento of their big occasion.

The re-affirmation of wedding vows, perhaps after 25, 30 or 40 years of marriage, has become popular in recent years. This is another occasion which can be enhanced by incorporating a mutual toast from the same quaich.

Engraving these quaichs with personal messages can individualise the gift. The sense of inclusion and participation in the happy day then stays with the recipient long after the ceremony itself is over.

Including hand-fasting in your ceremony

Another element which can be included in the wedding ceremony, which is often seen as complementary to the use of a ceremonial quaich, is hand-fasting.

Hand-fasting is the ceremonial act of tying the hands of the happy couple together with a cord, symbolising their love and the close union which binds them in matrimony. This gives rise to the much used phrase “tying the knot”.

The hand-fasting custom started in pagan times. As the centuries progressed, there was a practical element to it – in a rural village with no resident priest or minister, hand-fasting could be done and witnessed by just one person. A priest or minister could complete the wedding with a Christian ceremony at a later date. Hand-fasting cords were also much cheaper than wedding rings!

Hand-fasting, when it is included in the wedding ceremony, usually happens as the couple speak their vows. Braided cord, ribbon, or a strip of each family’s tartan, can be used to form the tie. Flower garlands, and even remnants from vintage wedding gowns can also be used. These cords can then become family heirlooms, handed down through the generations.

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