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Monday, 29 December 2014

A guid New Year tae ane an’ a’ and mony may ye see

That’s the traditional Scots welcome on New Year’s Eve, known as Hogmanay in Scotland. A time of celebration,drinking, and first footing to see out the old year and welcome in the new year.

Some say the name, Hogmanay, has French roots, others say it originated from the old Norse, and it seems the celebrations are a throwback to that of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. However, I doubt that any of the revellers on Hogmanay will be worrying about where the name or customs come from when they welcome in the New Year.

Hogmanay has always been a big end of year celebration in Scotland, with Christmas coming a poor second, although that is now changing. However it wasn’t so long ago that Christmas was not a holiday in Scotland, the influence of the protestant reformation was to blame for that. I can’t recall exactly when Christmas became a holiday in Scotland but it was well into the 1950s. Before that many people exchanged their gifts and celebrated on the winter solstice – Hogmanay.


There are several customs associated with Hogmanay. The house has to be cleaned from top to bottom on Hogmany as it is considered unlucky to welcome the New Year into a dirty house. The act of cleaning the whole house was called the redding, because it was getting ready for the new year.

Debts had to be paid by New Year’s Eve, as it was bad luck to usher in a new year with an outstanding debt.

Any knitting has be completed before the old year passes, failing that all the stitches should be removed from the needles.

It is unlucky for visitors to be admitted to the house before midnight has struck on New Year’s Eve, and they are likely to be refused admittance.

At midnight the man of the house opens the back door to let the old year out, and then opens the front door to let the new year in.

It is common for people to gather in the town centre waiting for midnight to strike, and on the first stroke of the chimes, known as The Bells, people link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne.

First footing starts immediately after midnight, on the last stroke of the church bells, and signifies a celebration of the new year which has just arrived. A first foot is the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour, their first visitor of the year. He should be male, and tall and dark. The first foot should present symbolic gifts to bring luck to the householder. These gifts range from salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a type of rich fruit cake). The householder then gives food and drink to the guest and they may party on until early morning, or alternatively the first foot will take his or her leave and visit a procession of houses. At least that is the traditional way. Nowadays, first footing is done with a bottle, and the first footer offers a dram (drink) from it to the householder, and vice versa.

Many of these customs were prevalent for a long time, but progress has caught up and a lot of these old customs have fallen by the wayside. No longer is it possible to open your door to complete strangers and welcome them inside to give them their New Year dram. Television programmes ensure many people sit in comfort at their firesides instead of congregating at The Bells. In fact many people are reluctant to venture to the town centre for The Bells, as what used to be a good-natured, friendly gathering, has become significantly rowdier. At one time the drinking never started until midnight, in fact it was thought unlucky to open your bottle before The Bells started. Nowadays people start drinking much earlier in the day.

Official, organised celebrations have taken the place of these informal gatherings. Events like Edinburgh’s torchlight procession, or Stonehaven’s fireball swinging festival.

But however people celebrate the coming of the New Year, the Scots will always let their hair down on Hogmanay.

So, until I see you after the New Year, lang may your lum reek, and a guid New Year to ane an’ a’ and mony may ye see.

1 comment:

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Have a great New Year, Chris - I've posted a little of my childhood traditions too!