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  Orcadian Wedding Traditions

Booking night and the contract money

After speirin’ night, the next important night was known variously as Booking Night, or Contract Night.

This night, traditionally a Saturday, was when friends and family gathered to celebrate the forthcoming marriage with a feast. Once the festivities were under way, the bridegroom and the Best Man, known here as the Groomsman or geud-man, left the party to visit the local church session-clerk. There, the bride and groom's names were entered into the session book

This over, the men would then visit the minister to pay their pawn-money or contract money.

This was almost like an insurance policy, paid to guarantee the conduct of the couple between that night and the wedding day. If their behaviour was "correct", the money was returned.

I have wondered whether this pawn-money - a considerable amount to a poor Orcadian family of yesteryear - was the Church's way of stamping out an earlier ceremony, known to have taken place further north in Shetland.

There, Booking Night was also the night the betrothed couple slept together as a seal of the contract. It was only after the Booking Night union that the couple were expected to abstain from further "intimate contact" until the night of their wedding.

No documented evidence of this custom survives in Orkney, but given the close parallels between Orkney and Shetland custom, it seems likely that it took place in some form in Orkney, perhaps prompting the local clergy to instigate a means of discouraging it.

Fit Washin' Night

Section Contents
Customs and First Steps
Fit Washin' Night
Saltwater and freshwater
Kissing Meat
Biddin' da Folk
The Blackening
The Wedding Day Arrives...
The Wedding Feast
The Wedding Cogs
After the Wedding

See Also
Courtship, love and marriage in Viking Scandinavia

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