Christmas may be an important date on our calendars, but there’s one day that eclipses it for Scots and that’s Hogmanay.
It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. However, it is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with New Year celebrations in Scotland.
Many of the ways we celebrate today date back to Norse times, which might explain some of the wilder traditions (more on those later). These Norse folk paid attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice and celebrated its passing with some serious partying.
In Scotland, Hogmanay has probably overshadowed Christmas for so long because of the historic banning of Christmas celebrations after the Protestant Reformation in the 17th Century. Incredible as it seems now, Christmas Day wasn’t even a public holiday in Scotland until the late 1950s, so it’s no wonder New Year’s Eve has always been a bigger deal in Scotland.
Hogmanay comes with many ancient traditions that are still popular today, which include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, while others – including whipping boys with holly and counting the drops of blood to see how many years they’ll live – haven’t quite endured as long.
How many of these traditions will be a part of your Hogmanay this year?
Something that is missing from far too much of the modern world is a sense of community spirit, but Hogmanay brings it back for a few minutes after midnight. The tradition says that neighbours should visit each other, bearing gifts, which are usually coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky.
It’s called First Footing because it matters who the first person to set foot through your door is. For good luck, it needs to be a dark-haired man, while if it’s a red-haired woman, that is about as unlucky as you can get. This is believed to date back to Viking times, where it generally wasn’t good for your health to have a Viking lady arrive at your door after midnight.
If a red-haired lady arrived at your door swinging a ball of fire, that would be even more worrying, and another Viking tradition that has endured to the modern day is the fireball celebration that takes place every Hogmanay in Stonehaven, not far from Brio Landale Court. At the stroke of midnight, around 40 men and women walk down the High Street swinging great balls of fire around themselves before depositing them in the sea. This most spectacular tradition is supposed to burn off any bad spirits from the year just gone so that the new year starts off clean and pure. It’s a sight that you’ll never forget and is one of several Scottish fire festivals with Viking origins, including the spectacular Comrie Flambeaux and the Biggar Bonfire, which also take place on Hogmanay.
If you want to cleanse your house of the bad spirits of the past year, swinging a fireball around your head probably isn’t the best idea, but maybe you could try the ritual of saining. You might still set your smoke alarms off though. First, you bless the house with water from a local stream, and then the woman of the house should go around it with a smouldering juniper branch, with the smoke meant to purify each room. Once it’s all clean – and smoky – you can open the windows and celebrate with some whisky.
All over the world, it’s become the tradition to sing Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, but it’s never sung anywhere quite as well as it’s sung in Scotland. If you want to be belting this ditty out at this year’s Hogmanay in a ready-made community with like-minded friends and neighbours, Brio Retirement Living is developing and operating a brand-new retirement living community in Chapelton, Aberdeenshire, with new homeowners starting to move in now.
If you’re in the Aberdeenshire area this Hogmanay but don’t fancy braving the Stonehaven Fireballs, there’s plenty to see at the big Aberdeen event. There’s live music – including a Queen tribute act – and a spectacular fireworks display at midnight.
Of course, the biggest Hogmanay celebration is in Edinburgh, and this year is no exception. Mark Ronson will be DJing in the Gardens in the build-up to midnight as well as soundtracking the fireworks display. Elsewhere, the big street party will have live music and entertainment, or there’s the traditional dancing on offer at the Ceilidh under the Castle.
Edinburgh even caters for the youngest generation, with the Bairns Afore show meaning you can take your grandkids to see a fun show that culminates in a ‘midnight’ fireworks display that allows parents to get them to bed at a decent hour.
Wherever you’re celebrating this year – and however you’re celebrating - we wish you a happy Hogmanay and a wonderful 2020!