Photograph courtesy of Robert Todd
Having had a quiet Christmas, we’re now into Hogmanay. Celebrating on Auld Year’s Night is traditionally a bigger event in Scotland than Christmas, as celebrating Christmas was banned in the 16th century after the Reformation of the Church who regarded it as a “Popist festival”. The ban lasted for about 400 years and Christmas Day was a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960’s.
Torchlight processions and fireworks reminiscent of the ancient Scottish pagan festivities are common and many towns and villages retain their own odd customs. In Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, on the stroke of midnight sixty men parade the streets swinging balls of fire in the ancient Fireballs Ceremony. Check out the video – I can almost smell the singeing of the kilties’ hairy legs.
Photograph courtesy of the Stonehaven Fireballs Association
Many people go to ceilidhs to dance, have a few drinks and see in the New Year with friends and family. It’s traditionally a warm, friendly time and everyone wishes each other a “Happy New Year” with a hug and a kiss, even strangers. As the parties are winding down, the revellers link arms, forming a circle and sing Rabbie Burns’ song “Auld Lang Syne” while moving in and out, standing on toes on the way in and stretching arms on the way out. This gets progressively faster, louder and rowdier and is nearly as hazardous as Scottish country dancing. The BBC Symphony Orchestra do a more genteel version of the song. Partying often goes on until very late on Ne’er Day, the 1st of January, so it’s appropriate that the first two days of January are Scottish holidays, to allow for Recovery Time.
Even if you’re at home, there are traditions to be observed. The house should be cleaned (“redding up”), and the ashes from the fire emptied – if you’re lucky someone may be able to read the ashes for you, like reading tea leaves, to see what the New Year will bring.
In days gone by, twigs from a Rowan tree would be placed above a door to bring luck, and a piece of mistletoe would protect the health the householders. Holly kept the fairies out and the magical powers of hazel and yew twigs protected the house and its occupants. Juniper would be burnt throughout the house, then all the doors were opened for a good blow-through before the house was then ready to bring in the New Year.
The “first foot” (the first visitor to come to your door after midnight) should bring a good luck gift (usually of an Adult Beverage nature and preferably whisky), salt, black bun (what’s that?), shortbread and a piece of coal are all acceptable. It’s a good sign if he is tall and dark haired – historically a blond visitor meant potential trouble of the Norse kind :-) If no visitors are expected, a suitable person may be chosen to be sent out of the house and come back in again with the requisite gifts. The back door and the front door of the house are opened at midnight – the New Year comes in the front while the Old Year leaves by the back.
“Here’s tae us – wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re a’ deid!”
I wish you a Happy New Year when midnight arrives in your part of the world – may 2012 bring you peace, joy, happiness and success in all your endeavours. Consider yourself hugged.
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