What is Hogmanay? How the New Year is celebrated in Scotland

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

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

It’s that time of the year again – Christmas and New Years.

It seems to be a constant refrain, with many asking “where did the time go” in regards to this year – and they’re right! Time has really passed.

New Year’s Eve is a big celebration around the world, attended by millions of people, and a particularly big event is in Scotland, where it is called Hogmanay.

Festivities take place across Scotland during Hogmanay and last for three days, starting in late December and ending on January 2.

The Scots have two days off after the celebration, unlike the rest of the UK which has New Year’s Day.

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 the festivities associated with it. It is unknown where the word came from; however, it is believed to be derived from the French word “hoginane” which means “gala day”.

It is believed that it was first widely used after the return of Mary, Queen of Scots to Scotland from France in 1561.

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

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

When is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the Scots call New Year’s Eve – December 31 – the big night marking the arrival of the new year.

What is the first basis?

First footing is a tradition that is part of the Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland and although not as common, it refers to friends or family visiting just after midnight to be 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 raids, because the Vikings had fair hair, so the arrival of a blonde 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 appeasing them with food and hospitality.

A dark rye bread called Czarna Bunka is traditionally given away to ensure that the home you visit won’t go hungry in the coming year.

First graders also traditionally bring a lump of coal to keep the home warm in the coming months.

Traditionally, people clean their homes and remove old ashes from the fire, symbolizing the cleansing of the old year and welcoming the new.

Where did Hogmanay come from?

The Hogamanay celebration dates back to pagan times when people celebrated the harvest and the end of the year with a festival called Samhain. This then became a midwinter Christmas celebration which continued as Catholicism became the main religion.

This period then became known as the “dumb days”, when people ate and drank copiously and enjoyed parties and bonfires.

However, in 1560, during the Reformation, debates began on how to celebrate this holiday, and in 1640, an act of the Sejm officially banned the holiday break, which meant that the celebrations were postponed until the new year.

How is Hogmanay celebrated?

There are many different ways to celebrate Hogmanay, from massive public events to small intimate gatherings. Whichever way you choose to enjoy this occasion, you will find that it will be a moment of fun, reflection and tradition.

Read on to discover some of Scotland’s most popular attractions during the New Year celebrations.

1. Join the Edinburgh New Year’s Parade

Edinburgh is home to one of the biggest New Year’s Day festivals in the world, and with events lasting up to three days, there’s plenty to enjoy in a city that regularly visits 100,000 people.

The festivities will begin on December 30 with a torchlight procession from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Park and end on December 31 with a party under the bells at Princes Street Gardens.

There’s also live music from some of Scotland’s biggest names, DJ sets and a lively, friendly atmosphere.

2. Dive into Loony Dook

On January 1, join a swim together at Loony Dook in the waters of the North Sea. Originally held on the waters of South Queensferry, under the Forth Railway Bridge, now you can join the fun at Portobello Beach and North Berwick Beach.

3. Experience the Scottish Fire Festival

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

Alternatively, at Burghead in Moray, see Burning of the Clavie, a wooden barrel filled with staves. Or head to the Scottish Borders for a Biggar bonfire.

4. Attend Hogmanay Ceilidh

In Scotland, “ceilidh” is a traditional event with live folk music and dancing in pairs and groups. Sometimes there is storytelling and plenty of food and drink.

These dances are boisterous, energetic and lots of fun.

5. Reflect on the past year

A nice way to celebrate is to reflect on the past year, holding 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 kind of fruit cake wrapped in pastry.

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