In Scotland, Christmas isn’t the most important holiday on the calendar. That honor goes to Hogmanay, or Scotland’s version of New Year’s Eve. Multiple traditions take place during the day, including the giving of gifts, the singing of the classic New Year’s song “Auld Lang Syne,” and numerous local traditions such as bonfires, fireworks, and special feasts. Hundreds of years old, the holiday actually goes back to the Norse and today is celebrated in different ways throughout Scotland. We’ve managed to find ten interesting facts about this very Scottish take on New Year’s Eve, and maybe next year you’ll consider doing something a bit different to finish out the year.
No one seems to be quite sure where the name “Hogmanay” comes from. The first time someone ventured a guest was 1693 in the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, as a corruption of the Greek phrase “agia mina” meaning “holy month.” Other suggestions include the word coming to the Middle Scots from the French, Gaelic, or a common Norse root word. The holiday itself has origins in the Gaelic celebrations of Samhain as well as Norse celebrations of Yule and the winter solstice so that it could give the latter explanations some credibility.
Is This a Good Idea?
Part of New Year’s Day celebrations in Edinburgh include jumping into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth, often in fancy dress. Known as the “Loony Dook,” it began in 1986 as a joke cure for a New Year’s hangover and thirty years later draws thousands of participants and onlookers.
An Extra Day to Sleep It Off
In addition to January 1st, January 2nd is also a national holiday in Scotland just in case you need one more day to get over that hangover (or the hypothermia from the Loony Dook). The rest of the UK has to go back to work on the 2nd.
Getting Your Footing in the Door
One common Hogmanay tradition is “First Footing.” It is said that the first person who comes across the threshold after the New Year brings a piece of coal for the fire as good luck. It’s also believed that dark-haired person coming across your door will bring good luck, while someone fairer-hared will bring bad. As part of the custom, some brunette friend may be asked to leave just before midnight so that they can come back in and bring the good luck with them.
First Before the English
Scotland actually adopted January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1600 when it switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. England wouldn’t do this until 1752. Under the Julian calendar, the new year began on March 25th.
One of the reasons that Hogmanay is considered more important than Christmas in Scotland is due to the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Following the Reformation, the Presbyterian church considered Christmas to be a Catholic holiday and ceased Christmas celebrations for about 400 years. This meant most Scots spent Christmas as another day, maybe save a special church service. Without Christmas to celebrate, Hogmanay became a much bigger holiday.
Tricking You Into Cleaning House
One Hogmanay tradition celebrated in many Scottish homes is called “Redding the House,” which basically involves doing a complete cleaning of the house to get ready for the New Year. Sweeping the ashes was part of the tradition, and some people would even read into the ashes the way a fortune teller reads tea leaves. After the cleaning, someone would go from room to room carrying a smoking juniper branch to chase out evil spirits.
It’s a Record
The Guinness Book of World Records has listed “Auld Lang Syne” as the world’s most-sung melody, even more than “Happy Birthday.” Poet Robert Burns actually transcribed the lyrics from an older Scottish folk song, and it was later paired with the music to create the traditional song we know so well. Radio play in American starting in 1929 helped to popularize the song on this side of the Atlantic and contributed to it becoming a tradition worldwide.
It’s Another Record
Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh actually established another record in 2000 when 1,914 people danced Strip the Willow at “Night Afore Fiesta,” making it the single-largest country-dance.
Enough About Edinburgh
Glasgow has some pretty big Hogmanay celebrations as well. The Hogmanay concert in George Square draws roughly 30,000 celebrants per year.