What is Hogmanay? How is New Year celebrated in Scotland

Torchlight vigils have taken place in Edinburgh in previous years (Andrew Milligan/PA Archive)

That time of year is coming again: Christmas and New Years.

It seems to be a constant refrain, with many asking ‘where did the weather go’ about this year – and they are right! Time has really flown by.

New Year’s Eve is a huge holiday all over the world, attended by millions of people, and it is a particularly important event in Scotland, where it is called Hogmanay.

The festivities take place across Scotland during Hogmanay and last for three days, starting at the end of December and finishing on 2 January.

The Scots have two days off after the festivities, unlike the rest of the UK which only gets New Year’s Eve.

But why is it called Hogmanay and how do the Scots celebrate?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is the Scottish name for the last day of the year and associated celebrations. It is not known where the word comes from; however, it is believed to derive from the French word “hoginane”, meaning “gala day”.

It is thought to have first been widely used after the return to Scotland from France of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Donna Heddle, an expert from the University of the Highlands and Islands, explained: “The name could also come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘haleg monath’ which means ‘holy month’. Some say it may come from the Scandinavian ‘hoggo-nott’ which means ‘yule’.

But Dr Heddle said: ‘The most likely source appears to be French. In Normandy, gifts given at Hogmanay were “hoguignetes”.

When is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the Scots call New Year’s Eve – December 31st – the great night that marks the arrival of the new year.

What is the first step?

The first step is a tradition that is part of Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland, and while it doesn’t occur all that often, it refers to when you visit friends or relatives just after midnight to become the first person to visit them and go to their home in the New Year.

Your first foot — the first person to visit you in the New Year — should be a tall, dark-haired man. The tradition dates back to the Viking invasions because the Vikings had blond hair, so the arrival of a blond man suggested danger.

It also has roots in pagan traditions, including marking the arrival of the dark half of the year and interacting with the mysterious realm of darkness and spirits, as well as placating them with food and hospitality.

A dark rye bread called Black Bun is traditionally handed out to ensure that those in the house you are visiting do not go hungry in the coming year.

The first footers also traditionally carry a lump of coal to ensure the house is warm in the coming months.

It is also traditional for people to clean their houses and remove old ash from the fire, symbolizing the cleansing of the old year to welcome the new.

Where does Hogmanay come from?

Hogamanay celebrations originated in pagan times when people celebrated the harvest and the end of the year with a festival called Samhain. This then became a mid-winter Christmas festival, which continued as Catholicism became the main religion.

The period then came to be known as ‘dumb days’ with people eating and drinking freely and enjoying feasts and bonfires.

However, in 1560, during the Reformation, debates began about how to celebrate the holiday, and in 1640, an Act of Parliament officially banned the Christmas holiday, which meant that the celebration was moved to the new year.

How is Hogmanay celebrated?

There are many different ways to celebrate Hogmanay, from large public events to small intimate gatherings. However you decide to experience the occasion, you will find it a time for enjoyment, reflection and tradition.

Read on to discover some of the most popular things to do in Scotland during the New Year celebrations.

1. Join the New Year’s Parade in Edinburgh

Edinburgh hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve festivals in the world, and with events lasting up to three days, there is plenty of entertainment to be had in the city, with 100,000 people visiting on a regular basis.

The festivities begin on 30 December with a candlelight procession from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Park and finish on 31 December with a party at the Bells in Princes Street Gardens.

There’s also live music from the biggest names in Scottish music, DJ sets and a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere.

2. Take a dip in the Loony Dook

On January 1st, join a collective dive into the Loony Dook in the waters of the North Sea. Originally this took place in the waters off South Queensferry, under the Forth Railway Bridge, these days you can also join in the fun at Portobello Beach and North Berwick.

3. Experience a Scottish fire festival

Fire festivals are a cornerstone of the festivities, for example, visit Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire or head to Comrie in Perthshire, where villagers light ‘flambeaux’, or glowing sticks, at the stroke of midnight.

Alternatively, at Burghead in Moray, witness the fire of the Clavie, a wooden barrel filled with staves. Or head to the Scottish Borders for the Biggar Bonfire.

4. Attend a Hogmanay Ceilidh

In Scotland, a ‘ceilidh’ is a traditional event, with live folk music and partner and group dancing. There is sometimes storytelling and plenty of food and drink.

These dances are wild, energetic and very entertaining.

5. Reflect on the past year

A great way to celebrate is to reflect on the past year by joining hands with loved ones and singing Auld Lang Syne, a song written by Robert Burns.

Then, after midnight, visit friends to drink whiskey and eat black buns, a type of fruitcake wrapped in shortcrust pastry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *