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Scotland has a long, rich and varied history, which is reflected in their unique national symbols. Most of these symbols are not officially recognized as national symbols, but are instead cultural icons, ranging from food to music, clothing and ancient thrones. Here’s a look at the symbols Scotland and what they represent.
- National Day: 30th of November – St. Andrew’s Day
- National Anthem: ‘Flower of Scotland’ – the most notable from a number of anthems
- National Currency: Pound sterling
- National Colors: Blue and white/ yellow and red
- National Tree: Scots Pine
- National Flower: Thistle
- National Animal: Unicorn
- National Bird: Golden Eagle
- National Dish: Haggis
- National Sweet: Macaroons
- National Poet: Robert Burns
The Saltire is the national flag of Scotland, made up of a large white cross set upon a blue field. It’s also called the St. Andrew’s Cross, since the white cross is the same shape as the one that St. Andrews was crucified on. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s believed to be one of the oldest flags in the world.
The story goes that King Angus and the Scots who went into battle against the Angles founded themselves surrounded by the enemy at which point the king prayed for deliverance. That night, St. Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and assured him that they would be victorious.
The next morning, a white saltire appeared to both sides of the battle, with the blue sky as the background. When the Scots saw it they were heartened but the Angles lost their confidence and were defeated. Afterwards, the Saltire became the Scottish flag and has been ever since.
The thistle is an unusual purple flower that’s found growing wild in the Scottish Highlands. Though it was named the national flower of Scotland, the exact reason it was chosen is unknown to this day.
According to Scottish legends, sleeping warriors were saved by the thistle plant when an enemy solder from the Norse army stepped on the prickly plant and cried out loudly, waking up the Scots. After a successful battle against the Norse soldiers, they chose the Scottish Thistle as their national flower.
The Scottish Thistle is also seen in Scottish heraldry for many centuries. In fact, the Most Noble Order of the Thistle is a special award for chivalry, given to those who have made a significant contribution to Scotland as well as to the UK.
The unicorn, a fabled, mythological creature was first adopted as the national animal of Scotland by King Robert back in the late 1300s but has been linked to Scotland for hundreds of years before. It was a symbol of innocence and purity as well as power and masculinity.
Believed to be the strongest of all animals, mythological or real, the unicorn was untamed and wild. According to the myths and legends, it could be humbled only by a virgin maiden and its horn had the ability to purify poisoned water, which showed the strength of its healing powers.
The unicorn can be found all over the towns and cities of Scotland. Wherever there is a ‘mercat cross’ (or market cross) you’re sure to find a unicorn at the top of the tower. They can also be seen at the Stirling Castle and Dundee, where one of the oldest warships known as the HMS Unicorn displays one as the figurehead.
The Royal Banner of Scotland (Lion Rampant)
Known as the Lion Rampant, or the Banner of the King of Scots, the royal banner of Scotland was first used as a royal emblem by Alexander II back in 1222. The banner is often mistaken for the national flag of Scotland but it legally belongs to the King or Queen of Scotland, presently Queen Elizabeth II.
The Banner consists of a yellow background with a red double-border and a red lion standing in the middle on its hind legs. It’s said to represent the country’s history of national pride and battle and is often seen waved about at Scottish rugby or football matches.
The Lion Rampant occupies the shield of the royal arms and royal banners of Scottish and British monarchs and is symbolic of the Kingdom of Scotland. Now, its use is officially restricted to the royal residencies and representatives of the Monarch. It continues to be known as one of the most recognisable symbols of the Kingdom of Scotland.
The Stone of Scone
The Stone of Scone (also called the Coronation Stone or the Stone of Destiny) is a rectangular block of reddish sandstone, used throughout history for the inauguration of Scottish monarchs. Considered an ancient and sacred symbol of the monarchy, its earliest origins remain unknown.
In 1296, the stone was seized by the English King Edward I who had it built into a throne at Westminster Abbey in London. From that point onwards, it was used for coronation ceremonies of the Monarchs of England. Later on in the mid-twentieth century, four Scottish students removed it from Westerminster Abbey after which its whereabouts were unknown. About 90 days later, it turned up at Arbroath Abbey, 500 miles away from Westminster and in the late-nineteenth century it was returned to Scotland.
Today, the Stone of Scone is proudly displayed in the Crown Room millions of people visit it each year. It’s a protected artifact and will leave Scotland only in the event of a coronation at Westminster Abbey.
Scotland is a European country that’s extremely famous for its national drink: whiskey. Whiskey has been crafted for centuries in Scotland, and from there, made its way to almost every inch of the globe.
It’s said that the making of whiskey first began in Scotland as the methods of wine making spread from European monasteries. As they didn’t have access to grapes, the monks would use grain mash to create the most basic version of the spirit. Throughout the years, it has changed greatly and now the Scots make several types of whiskey including malt, grain and blended whiskey. The difference of each type is in its process of creation.
Today, some of the most popular blended whiskeys such as Johnnie Walker, Dewars and Bells are household names not only in Scotland but throughout the world.
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is a perennial shrub that grows only up to 50 centimetres tall at the most. It’s found widely throughout Europe and growing on the hills of Scotland. Throughout the history of Scotland, many wars were fought for position and power and during this time, the soldiers wore heather as a talisman of protection.
The Scots only wore white heather for protection, as red or pink heather was said to be stained with blood, inviting bloodshed into one’s life. Therefore, they made sure not to carry any other color of heather into battle, other than white. The belief is that white heather will never grow on soil where blood had been shed. In Scottish folklore, it’s said that white heather grows only in areas where the fairies have been.
Heather is considered an unofficial symbol of Scotland and even today, it’s believed that wearing a sprig of it can bring someone good luck.
The Kilt is a shirt-like, knee-length garment worn by Scottish men as an important element of the national Scottish outfit. It’s made of woven cloth with a cross-checked pattern on it known as a ‘tartan’. Worn with the plaid, it’s permanently pleated (except for at the ends), wrapped around the person’s waist with the ends overlapping to form a double layer at the front.
Both the kilt and plaid were developed in the 17th century and together they form the only national garb in the British Isles that’s worn not only for special occasions but for ordinary events as well. Up until World War II, kilts were worn in battle and also by the Scottish soldiers in the British army.
Today, the Scots continue to wear the kilt as a symbol of pride and to celebrate their Celtic heritage.
Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is a savory pudding made of sheep’s pluck (organ meat), with onion, suet, oatmeal, spices, salt mixed with stock. In the past it was cooked traditionally encased in the sheep’s stomach. However, now an artificial casing is used instead.
Haggis originated in Scotland although many other countries have produced other dishes that are quite similar to it. However, the recipe remains distinctly Scottish. By 1826, it was established as the national dish of Scotland and symbolizes Scottish culture.
Haggis is still very popular in Scotland and is traditionally served as an important part of the supper on Burns night or on the birthday of the national poet Robert Burns.
The Bagpipe, or the Great Highland bagpipe, is a Scottish instrument and an unofficial symbol of Scotland. It’s been used for centuries in parades, the British military and pipe bands all over the world and was first attested in 1400.
Bagpipes were originally constructed of wood like laburnum, boxwood and holly. Later on, more exotic types of wood were used including ebony, cocuswood and African blackwood which became the standard in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Since bagpipes played an important role on the battlefield, they do have an association with war and bloodshed. However, the sound of the bagpipe has become synonymous with courage, heroism and strength for which the people of Scotland are renowned worldwide. It also continues to be one of the most important Scottish icons, symbolizing their heritage and culture.
The symbols of Scotland are a testament to the culture and history of the Scottish people, and the beautiful landscape that is Scotland. While not an exhaustive list, the above symbols are the most popular and often the most recognizable of all the Scottish symbols.