Dictionaries of the Scots Language defines this pre-marital tradition as:
“The ceremony of washing the feet of a bridegroom (or bride) performed by his (or her) friends on the eve of the wedding”.
This custom is mentioned as early as 1721 in the Poems of Allan Ramsay:
“Not soft Fifeteen on her Feet-washing Night”.
The Edinburgh Magazine of 1818 is quite specific in its description:
“The eve of the wedding-day is termed the feet-washing, when a party of the neighbours of the bride and bridegroom assemble at their respective homes”.
That the custom survived into later times is shown in this example from an Edinburgh contributor in 2000:
“When I was young ca. 1970, my mother was invited to a ‘feet-washin’; I had no idea what they were talking about and was told that it was sort of like a showing of presents but the bride got her feet washed because she was changing homes”.
This tradition was cited as recently as February 2018 in an article from the Edinburgh Evening News on Old Scottish Wedding Customs:
“Another custom undertaken prior to the wedding was feet-washing. Friends of the bride would wash her feet in a tender manner in a symbolic act of cleansing. Treatment of the groom was much rougher. His feet were covered in soot and feathers. Soot represented hearth and home and was thought to be lucky”.
Explanations for the ritual vary but it is perhaps symbolic of leaving the parental home and moving to a home of one’s own.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.