Happy Hogmanay! #Sepia Saturday

Robert Todd Fireworks photo

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.


Check out other Sepia Saturday posts – and please leave a comment, bloggers love a comment!

About Jo Graham

Scottish genealogist - this blog is for my own family history and photos
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12 Responses to Happy Hogmanay! #Sepia Saturday

  1. Adrian says:

    This is brilliant!!!
    So much here I didn’t know.
    Happy New Year to you too (thanks for the hug, it will be treasured)

  2. postcardy says:

    I enjoyed reading about the Scottish customs. I am surprised that a piece of coal was an acceptable gift. Only bad children get coal from Santa here.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks for your comment – I love comments. I guess that when times were hard, a piece of coal meant the difference between bread and toast for breakfast! Happy New Year 🙂

  3. Bob Scotney says:

    I was at University in St Andrews but never spent Hogmanay there. I’ve worked in Aberdeen and Dundee over a period of years but never got to see Edinburgh or the Stonehaven events – and I regret this now. Thanks for the memories, Jo.
    Best wishes for the New Year.

  4. Kristin says:

    We will be sending someone out the back door and in the front with a gift of cheer at midnight + 1! enjoyed your post.

  5. Little Nell says:

    That’ so funny Jo. I could smell that singed body hair too! I was staggered this evening to find that my daughter (who I always thought of as well educated) had never heard of first footing. There you go. I was happy to enlighten her! We get lots of fireworks here in Lanzarote come midnight …if I can keep awake long enough! Happy New Year to you and here’s a hug coming back your way!

  6. Liz Stratton says:

    Happy New Year Jo. I absolutely loved learning of the Scottish New Year’s traditions. It makes me want to visit and join in the celebration. (Hug back to you.)

  7. TICKLEBEAR says:

    Happy New Year!!
    I don’t know what that last thing was in the last pic,
    but it looks good!!

  8. Hi Jo, Very interesting..those Fire Ball fellows must have no hair on their legs! You have many interesting customs and rituals. Thanks for sharing them..over here old people stay in and off the roads and watch TV at midnight. Not real exciting. 🙂

  9. I’ve seen a similar custom in Allenheads, County Durham where they bring in the new year with a parade of men with flaming tar barrels on their heads! This may be even nuttier! Fear is extinguished with alcohol too I bet. Best wishes for 2012

  10. Tattered and Lost says:

    Thank you for the Scottish history lesson. It helps to put my long ago relatives in context with their old home.

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