Hogmanay – The Scottish New Year


 

Hogmanay is the Scots  word for the last day of the year and is normally only the start of a celebration which can last until January 2nd which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.

Origins

There are many theories about the roots of Hogmanay. It could go as far back as the winter solstice  among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the “Daft Days” as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.

Customs

The most widespread national custom is the practice of ‘first-footing’ which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake)  intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day.  The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot.

Local customs

Each area of Scotland often developed its own particular Hogmanay ritual.


There are many local customs at Hogmanay such as the fireball swinging in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, in north-east Scotland. This involves local people making up ‘balls’ of chicken wire filled with old newspaper, sticks, rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 2 feet, each attached to about 3 feet of wire, chain or nonflammable rope. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off up the High Street from the Mercat Cross to the Cannon and back, swinging the burning balls around their heads as they go. At the end of the ceremony, any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour. The festivities are now streamed live over the Internet.

In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers used to carry a decorated herring while in Falkland in Fife, local men would go in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills near midnight. Bakers in St. Andrews would bake special cakes for their Hogmanay celebration (known as ‘Cake Day’) and distribute them to local children.

Institutions also had their own traditions. For example, amongst the Scottish regiments, the officers had to wait on the men at special dinners while at the bells, the Old Year is piped out of barrack gates. The sentry then challenges the new escort outside the gates: ‘Who goes there?’ The answer is ‘The New Year, all’s well.

An old custom in the Highlands is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (‘protecting, blessing’) of the household and livestock. Early on New Year’s morning, householders drink and then sprinkle ‘magic water’ from ‘a dead and living ford around the house (a ‘dead and living ford’ refers to a river ford that is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, the house is sealed up tight and branches of juniper are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre. The juniper smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers ‘a restorative’ from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to its New Year breakfast.

 

“Auld Lang Syne”

The Hogmanay custom of singing Auld Lang Syne has become common in many countries. “Auld Lang Syne” is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns  which was later set to music. It is now common for this to be sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s Day, although it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, coordinating with the lines of the song which contain the lyrics to do so. Typically, it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

Auld Lang Syne is now sung regularly at “The last Night of the Proms” in London by the full audience with their arms crossed over one another.

(Raises a glass of Whisky) Happy New year!

 

 

Advertisements

4 comments on “Hogmanay – The Scottish New Year”

  1. I learned something new today. May 2013 be a good one. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing! I spent NYE in Edinburgh last year – what a great weekend. Love Scotland.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: