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31 December

Hogmanay, New Year's Eve in Scotland, is arguably a bigger date in the Scottish calendar than Christmas -- so big, that people even have the 1st and the 2nd of January off of work in Scotland.

Any household chores that have been started have to be finished by Hogmanay; it is considered bad luck to carry them over into the New Year.

A huge party is held in Glasgow city centre, where the normal ban on public drinking is lifted for the evening. The big party, though, is in Edinburgh. Official celebrations in Edinburgh started in 1993. Attendance is limited to those who have one of 180,000 free passes given out, to prevent overcrowding.

Different customs are followed in different parts of Scotland. In Lewis, groups of boys go from house to house, reciting Scottish rhymes and carrying a sack, into which they put a bannock that they are given at each house. In some parts of Scotland, guns are fired at midnight.

Throughout Scotland, after midnight, men folk -- preferably tall, dark men (remember, a fair-haired person knocking at your door in Scotland was likely to be a Viking [1]) set out to "first foot" houses bearing gifts of a bottle of whiskey and an oatmeal bannock to bring good luck to those households for the coming year. Traditional gifts in the past used to include coal (symbolizing warmth), cake (food) and salt (wealth.)

You need snacks on hand to feed the "first-footers." A Hogmanay Bannock is made and served, along with black bun, shortbread, cheddar cheese, and cake. Beverages include Het Pint, a drink mixed from ale, nutmeg and whisky. And of course, Scotch. Many people splash out on a better bottle of Scotch than they'd normally buy.

People greet each other in the streets in the process of first footing, and often used to break out into dance in the streets in older times.


[1] These days, it's unlikely that anyone carrying a bottle of whiskey would be turned away, regardless of hair colour.

History Notes

On 1st January 1600, the 1st January became the official New Year in Scotland. Prior to that, the New Year started on Lady Day (25 March). Hogmanay used to be celebrated on what is now the 12th of January, before the calendars were corrected.

Hogmanay possibly came to be a bigger deal than Christmas in Scotland because the Scottish Presbyterian church was suspicious of all the excess of Christmas celebrations on a holy day (some stores remained open on Christmas Day in Scotland even up until the 1950s.)

Literature & Lore

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!

Language Notes

Some speculate that the word Hogmanay orginates from either the Anglo-Saxon expression "Haleg Monath" (meaing "Holy Month"), or the Gaelic expression "oge maidne" (meaning "new morning"); there are also other theories.

See also:

Food and other items related to: Hogmanay

Black Bun

All December food days

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Oulton, Randal. "Hogmanay." CooksInfo.com. Published 16 August 2004; revised 31 May 2009. Web. Accessed 03/18/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/Hogmanay>.

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