While most of the world will be celebrating ‘just another’ New Year’s Eve on 31st December, the Scots are preparing for a celebration fest but the importance they place on this night and beyond is a tradition like no other. For Scotland, Hogmanay is the biggest celebration in the festive calendar – bigger even than Christmas Day – and it’s certainly worth waiting for. You thought the Highland Games was a cultural signifier; think again…
Definition of Hogmanay and its origins
Hogmanay is the name the Scots give to their celebrations on New Year’s Eve. It is unclear where the actual word originated from though history suggests that its common roots reach back to the Norsemen – “men of the north” – in Scandinavia (between the 8th – 11th Centuries) who celebrated the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) with wild parties during late December. Such parties eventually began to feature elements from the Gaelic Samhain winter festival and the Vikings’ Yule, and these celebrations were labelled ‘daft days’ by the Scots. Now that Hogmanay has been established for a few centuries it culminates in a real mix of cultural, national and historical influences. The best celebrations always do!
How do Hogmanay celebrations differ from New Year’s Eve?
One of the major differences between Hogmanay and the traditional New Year’s Eve parties is the length; the former begins on 31st December but continues throughout New Year’s Day and into 2nd January (itself a public holiday in Scotland). This then divides the two celebrations culturally too as while the rest of the UK is generally easing back and business recommences, the streets in Scotland remain deserted.
How the big Scottish cities do it
Hogmanay is celebrated throughout Scotland in varying degrees from the intimate yet ‘daft’ gatherings to the elaborate, eccentric festivals. The big cities fall into the latter category and Edinburgh leads the way with a huge 30th December torch-lit parade, an enviable fireworks display and various performances from up-and-coming acts to full blown rock stars. Everything is performed wholeheartedly to (always) enthusiastic, (sometimes) bemused crowds from more than 60 different countries. Either way, people feel privileged to be part of the throng and tradition that is Hogmanay.
The Scottish capital’s largest crowd totalled 400,000 in 1996 and since then safety restrictions mean fewer people though the numbers are still high. Glasgow is another city that doesn’t disappoint and the Glaswegians can be seen singing, dancing, eating steak pie and stew, drinking by the gallon and storytelling till the sun rises on New Year’s Day.
The importance of Hogmanay to the Scottish people
It is only in recent years that Scotland began to celebrate Christmas. The festive holiday was abolished by the Protestant Reformation for 400 years and it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas Day was accepted as a public holiday in Scotland. Then, in 1974 Boxing Day was announced as a public holiday. Scotland instead had to work through Christmas and wait until Hogmanay to celebrate with family and friends. Is it any wonder now that this traditional get-together has become an exciting explosion of freedom and fun!
Celebrate Hogmanay your way this year
It has to be said, there is no hiding it; the Scots love a good party. Therefore that is usually the main focus of Hogmanay. But, if you’re lucky enough to witness this special celebratory period in Scotland you may observe, though you might not know them to be at first, a number of traditions as well.
The most popular tradition is ‘first-footing’ where the first person to enter the house after midnight brings gifts such as food or coal. First-footing is regarded as affecting the fortune of the household for the coming year and this is dependent on the appearance of the visitor; the ideal guest is a tall, dark man…if you open the door to a flat-coat retriever called Lizzie wearing a Santa hat…well, you can guess the rest.
Other traditions can include watching abominable and cheesy TV programmes (ones you would never ordinarily choose to watch, of course) before the bells chime and linking arms whilst singing with all the clan, a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, the famous poem written by Robert Burns.
Celebrate Hogmanay in a Scottish Castle
Speaking of which, why not book your New Year’s celebrations at Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness? It’s unique, luxurious and scenic; the perfect backdrop to a house party style that’s seen a lot more of Scotland’s history than anyone alive today. While there’s no rules to celebrating Hogmanay, maybe your first attempt could be kept quite simple with the core elements of Scottish culture at its heart. Many Scottish families this year will be sitting down to a delicious meal with family and friends with the drink flowing – oh, please don’t forget the whisky – to help bring in the new year followed by a steak pie dinner the next day. Should your head be a little sore ask any one of our dedicated hospitality team for a glass of Irn Bru (or a bottle). We’re almost certain this bright orange fizzy drink has been curing hangovers for centuries too.