There's nowhere like Scotland to celebrate the New Year! But what do we do at Hogmanay?
It's believed many of our Hogmanay celebrations were brought over by the Vikings in the 8th or 9th Century. Some of these Pagan traditions have been absorbed into our Christian celebrations, such as our Christmas Trees, but some are still celebrated.
Fire ceremonies are celebrated around Hogmanay and New Year, most notably Stonehaven's Fireball Festival. Giant fireballs are swung around on long metal poles and paraded up and down the Hight Street before throwing them into the harbour. The idea behind the ceremony is to burn off the bad spirits left from the old year, so that the spirits of the new year can come in clean and fresh. The origin of this, much like the famous Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland, is believed to be linked to the Winter Solstice.
So why are the Scots so enthusiastic about Hogmanay? Well it might surprise you to know that Christmas wasn't celebrated and was all but banned in Scotland for around 400 years! The prim and proper Protestant Kirk considered Christmas to be a Catholic thing and they wanted no part in it. So after the Scottish Reformation, Yuletide Celebrations were effectively removed from the calendar and in 1640, Christmas was banned altogether!
The ban was lifted in 1712 but the Kirk continued to frown on it, so much so that it only became a public holiday in Scotland in 1958! And Boxing Day had to wait until 1974. Because of this, Scottish people worked over Christmas and Hogmanay was their main celebration.
However, that's not to say the got the day off work! In 1871, the Bank Holiday Act declared January 1st and Christmas Bank Holidays. However, at the time, bank holidays were just that - a holiday for the bank and local businesses didn't close. In 1971, January 2nd was declared another bank holiday, just for Scotland, which highlights the greater importance that New Year has for us.
Just like any holiday, there are plenty of superstitions and traditions that follow Hogmanay such as: cleaning every part of the house, clearing all your debts and sweeping the ashes all before the bells. This is to ensure you clear out the mess of the old year and start the New Year fresh and with nothing holding you back.
"First-footing" is still common across Scotland. To ensure good luck in the New Year, the first foot into the house should be a dark-haired male bringing coal or wood for the fire, shortbread or something good to eat, a coin and a wee dram to represent warmth, good food, good cheer and prosperity! They can't, however, already be in the house before midnight and you run the risk of some bad luck on your house if your first footer is a woman, a red head or a light haired man!
Some people burn a rowan twig as a way of getting rid of bad feelings between friends or family and others bake Yule bread. Whoever finds the trinket in the bread is sure to have good luck in the New Year. This is a similar tradition to one famously played by Mary Queen of Scots during her Christmas celebrations on Twelfth Night. A bean would be baked into a cake and whoever found the bean in their slice would be named Queen for the day! We even know who won - Mary Flemming.
A tradition followed almost the world over is to sing Auld Lang Syne immediately after the bells. It is, however, often sung incorrectly as it is not "for the sake of" anything. And yes Mariah Carey, there are those of us out there that know what the words really are. The most famous version by Robert Burns, written in 1788 but based on an older traditional folk song, is sung along to the world over. It is typically sung with arms crossed in friendship and calls on us not to forget our old, long-staniding friendships.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”