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What is Hogmanay?

New Years Eve or the 31st December is celebrated the world over, but in Scotland there is a massive celebration called Hogmanay (pronounced Hog-ma-nay).


The origins of the word Hogmanay are debated with some believing it to have Anglo Saxon or Scandinavian roots.



The Scottish celebrations take place over 3 days from Hogmanay until the 2nd of January. In the United Kingdom all other countries are given the 1st of January as a Public Holiday but in Scotland the people get the 1st & 2nd of January.


In days gone by New Year was a much bigger deal for the people of Scotland than Christmas was. My mother remembers that in the 1950s her father who was a Bank Manager used to work on Christmas day but had several days off during New Year to celebrate. It was not until 1958 that Scotland would be given Christmas Day as a Public Holiday.


Past Traditions


On Hogmanay the house would be cleaned from top to bottom & the front steps scrubbed clean. Any Debts would be cleared so that the New Year would be started with a clean slate. Sandwiches & other foods would be made preparation for the Celebration & Whisky, Sherry & other drinks would be laid out for visitors.



After the Church Bells sounded at Midnight on Hogmanay it was traditional to visit Friends, Family & Neighbours to ‘First Foot’ them. The householder would hope that the first person to enter their home after The Bells would be a Tall, Dark Haired, Handsome Man who would bring them luck in the year ahead.


Those who arrived at your home after The Bells would normally bring Black Bun (a type of fruit cake), salt, a lump of Coal or Shortbread & Whisky. Food would be distributed amongst guests & a Wee Dram would be shared from each others bottles.


I have even heard of some who would open the front & back doors of their homes just before midnight. This was to let the old year pass out of the rear door & let the new year enter through the front door.


It is also customary to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ a song by Robert Burns, everyone stands in a circle linking hands then at the beginning of the final verse everyone crosses their arms across their bodies to that your left hands are holding the hand of the person to the right & your right is holding the person to your left, everyone then rushes into the middle laughing & often being pulled about a bit.


There are a wide range of Hogmanay Traditions throughout Scotland with many regions celebrating ‘The Bells’ in different ways such as the fireball swinging which takes place in Stonehaven where local people make up large balls with chicken wire filled with flammable papers or rags. As the Bells ring the balls are set alight & people parade along the high street swinging the balls around their heads. At the end of the ceremony all the burning balls are thrown into the harbour. There are probably too many to list & I am sure that there will be traditions that were carried out & passed down individual families.


It was often customary for people to go from home to home after the Bells with most staying up all night to celebrate. These celebrations would carry on for days & on occasion would see people visit friends & relations up till the middle of January.


Celebrations today


Many Cities in Scotland now arrange large Hogmanay celebrations, one of the most popular is in the Countries Capital, Edinburgh. This event includes many celebrations within the city including parades, a ceilidh, a street party, concerts & a firework display.


Some people still observe many of the old traditions. Auld Lang Syne is still sung & many still First Foot family & friends after the bells & share a Wee Dram.


The Scots as a people are always pretty chatty & would speak to anyone…. this is no different during New Year when you will stop & chat to a stranger in the Street & wish him a Happy New Year!


Others prefer to bring in the New Year by watching the festivities on the Television before having a few drinks & heading to bed in the early hours.


Another tradition is to have a later dinner on Hogmanay of Steak Pie which I love to follow with Scottish Cranachan. I often wonder if this late dinner was a way of absorbing the alcohol which would follow in the hours to come.


Others prefer to have the Steak Pie for their dinner on New Years day.



Fancy making some of the foods mentioned in this article? Check out the Recipes on my Scottish Food Pinterest Board

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