Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hogmanay or Old Year's Night, December 31st

Absent Parties with Her Scottish Cousins


Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of New Year's Eve. The most important way to celebrate Hogmanay is by eliminating all the negative parts of the old year in order to have a clean break from it, and to welcome in a young, New Year with a happy celebration.

This sounds mostly the same idea as our regular American New Year's celebration, but there are a few things that are different, more traditional than our "party until the ball drops" celebration.

  • Redding/Cleaning- The day of Hogmanay should be spent cleaning the home, because the New Year should be welcomed to a neat and tidy home to ensure the best luck. Messy homes are unlucky homes. Also, all debts should be paid or settled so you start the new year with a financial "clean house."

  • New Year's Bells- Bells should be rung at midnight. Just do it, don't think about the neighbors. Ring the bells for luck. And then you are supposed to link arms with your co-celebraters and sing "Auld Lang Syne" while the bells are ringing.

  • First Footing- Visitors should not arrive before midnight. At midnight, the household should make as much noise as possible to scare off any visitors or spirits with ill intent. In order to ensure good luck for the house for the rest of the year, the first foot in your home after midnight should be male, and dark-haired because dark-haired will mean that he is a fellow Scotsman, and will mean the household no harm, while a blond or red-haired man will usually be an invader, Norseman, Irish, Saxon... and they mean harm to a Scot and the Scottish household.

    First-footers not only have to be dark-haired, but they should also be handsome. Also they should not be a doctor, a minister, a thief, a grave digger, a flat footed person, or someone whose eyebrows meet in the middle (get the pluckers out). Women and red-haired people are the worse to have as the first-footer. To counter the bad luck of a bad first-footer, ask the guest to throw salt into an open flame.

    The First Footer should bring something symbolic like: coal, to heat the home; shortbread, so the house does not run out of food; salt, to add a little seasoning to life; a silver coin, to insure wealth to the household, or whisky, to warm the spirits.

  • Taking Turns or Singing E'en- Everyone in the house must spend the evening taking turns doing something. The turn taking can be singing songs, reading poems, telling jokes or telling stories. Think of things that you can do for entertainment in a evening around a fire.

  • Fire- It's good to have a bonfire, or at least a fire in the fireplace. Fires are cleansing, and will rid you of all the bad things of the previous year. Fires will also ward off evil spirits. If you can't have a fire you can light a torch, or a candle... just have some sort of flame near you.

  • Up Helly-aa- This is the tradition of burning a Viking ship in effigy. This was to scare away any Vikings who might invade the following year.

  • Fireballing- This tradition might be hard to implement in your neighborhood. You will need to construct a ball of chicken wire, tar, paper and other flammable material and attach it to a chain or non-flammable rope. Then the most daring person at the party will swing the ball round and round their head and body by the rope while walking through the streets, until finally throwing the ball into a large body of water. I suppose you could just have a bonfire instead, but doesn't fireballing sound so much cooler?

  • Creaming the Well- This is drawing the first water from the well in the New Year. There is good luck for the person who drinks from the first water drawn from the well. Also, single women, if you give the first water drawn from the well to the man that you want to marry, and he drinks it, he will marry you in the coming year.

  • Hogmanay Guising- Like Halloween night, children are to go door-to-door for oatcakes, pieces of black bun, shortbread, sweets or money.

  • Handselling- is the custom of gift giving on the first Monday of the New Year. And you thought you were all done with that.

The appropriate things to say on Hogmanay are:

  • Theacht mean oiche (heacht meawn eehe) which means "the arrival of midnight"

  • Og-Mhadainn or H'og maidne which means "the new morning"

  • Ocht mean oiche which means "eighth midnight" (Twelfth Night is coming)

  • Ceilidh which is a party where singing, dancing, and storytelling are the entertainment

  • Lang may yer lum reek!- this is a traditional Scottish New Year's toast which means "long may your chimney smoke." Basically, you are wishing someone wealth throughout the new year, wealth enough to buy coal to heat their home.

The appropriate things to eat on Hogmanay are:

So, even if you don't do all this to celebrate your New Year, at least you have something to think about when you hear the words of that favorite son of Scotland-

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne."- Robert Burns


Th. said...


I'm sorry I missed this one. I'm emailing it to my wife now.

Absent-minded Secretary said...

Um... that's not fair. You put me in a bad spot. Beautiful red hair doesn't give bad luck according to me, the queen of the almanac.

Th. said...


Nowaitno! You misunderstand. She's Scottish (and it cracked me up that redheads are suspect--but her family is Campbells, so I guess if red is a Campbell coloring then they're every right to suspect them, traitorous bastards) and I thought she would enjoy seeing how the Scots ring in the New Year. I wouldn't be the least surprised if some of those elements are incorporated to ringing in 2009.

Absent-minded Secretary said...

Well, then we are family! The my mom's family are Burns, which are a sub-branch of the Campbells. So, Lang may yer lum reek! And next time we meet we should share a bit of shortbread to celebrate!