Heather's Monthly Articles

Whuppity Scoorie

March 2020

As we march into spring, it’s time once again to consider the traditions and folklore specific to Britain that are celebrated this merry month of March. Traditions, for instance, such as Whuppity Scoorie. And yes, you read that correctly. No typos, I promise.

Whuppity Scoorie is, by British standards, a fairly recent festival, dating back to the late 1800s. It takes places in Lanark, in the Strathclyde region of Scotland on March 1st and heralds the approach of spring.

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St. Nicholas Parish Church, Lanark

The festivities kick off on the stroke of 6pm, when wee ones gather around St. Nicholas Church. As the church bell rings out, the kiddies are off! They noisily race three laps around the church in a clockwise direction, swinging their modern day maces, made out of tightly wrapped paper balls on strings, above their heads in an attempt to hit each other. For safety reasons, and to make it fairer for the wee-est of participants, the event is no longer called a “race”.

When the race – that’s not a race - is over, everyone scrambles for coins which have been thrown down by members of the Community Council. For the next few days, the council also hosts a Whuppity Scoorie Storytelling Festival and art workshops.

No one knows for certain the origins of Whuppity Scoorie. Sources differ. One claims that the children’s shouting was meant to chase away evil spirits, which, if you have ever been around a gaggle of screaming children, is perfectly believable. Another source suggests it dates from a time when wrongdoers were flogged through the town, before being cleansed in the nearby River Clyde. Or it could simply be a way of celebrating the end of the dark winter nights, as spring approaches and even children in olden days needed to let off steam after being cooped up all winter long.

Another theory is that the tradition recreates the escape of an English soldier from Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace’s followers. As he entered the church, the fleeing Englishman reportedly shouted “sanctuary” (Scoorie) while his pursuers proclaimed ‘up at ye’ (Whuppity).

Whatever its origins, Whuppity Scoorie is not to be confused with Whuppity Stoorie. This ancient tale tells the story of a farmer’s wife who also lived near Lanark and who fell on hard times after her husband had been taken by a press gang. Adding to her troubles, her pig became ill and she was forced to do a deal with a scheming fairy who cured the pig, but demanded the wife’s baby son as payment for her service. Unless...yes, you’ve guess it...the wife could guess the fairy’s name.

Trying to think of a name proved to be a challenge, until the wife went into the woods and heard the fairy chanting “Little kens our guid dame at hame, that whuppity stoorie is my name.” When the fairy came to collect the baby the woman yelled out “Whuppity Stoorie” and the fairy vanished.

When re-telling this tale to the little ones in your life, remember that using a Scottish dialect is not optional.

Here's a fun clip:

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