On the 1st March each year, in the Royal Burgh of Lanark in Scotland, local children gather around the local St Nicholas kirk where, at 6 pm the ‘wee bell’ is rung. This is the starting sign for the children to run around the church in a clockwise direction, making noise and swinging paper balls on strings above their heads as they run. Originally it was a race but now, for safety reasons and to increase fairness for the younger ones, it is for fun. Non-the-less after three laps they can all scramble for coins thrown by members of the Community Council – the hosts the event.
This event is called ‘Whuppity Scoorie’ and is a traditional Scottish festival that dates back to the early 19th century. The tradition was first mentioned in ‘The Hamilton Advertiser, a local newspaper around the mid-19th century. It was called the “wee bell ceremony” suggesting a link with the ringing of the church bell. It was in 1893 that the Advertiser first referred to “the custom known as Whuppity Scoorie” which simply became “Whuppity Scoorie” the next year.
The three laps around the church were also first mentioned in 1893, although the writer claimed this custom was 120 years old by then. The Advertiser also reported on how the local boys in those days rolled up their caps and tied them with string. After the bell rang, they would march to New Lanark where they would fight the boys coming in the opposite direction.
The actual origins of Whuppity Scoorie are unknown but there are, of course, several theories which try to explain how the ancient custom evolved. The most common theory is that Whuppity Scoorie came from a pagan festival that was intended to celebrate spring and frighten off winter or evil spirits.
Others believe it marks the time when days got longer allowing curfews to be lifted or changed so children could play outside longer. Another theory connects the event with an ancient religious penance in which the penitents were whipped three times round the church and afterwards “scoored” – washed – in the nearby River Clyde. This is, though, a rather suspect action as the burgh and kirk session records make no mention of such punishments. Another possible origin is that it was instituted to remember the murder of William Wallaces’s wife.
Whatever the origins – whatever the facts – today is a day when the young and older of Lanark can have a great memorable day of fun.