Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year’s Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish bank holiday. The origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but it may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, with special attention given to the first-foot, the first guest of the new year.
The word Hogmanay is derived from the 1693 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, which held that the term was a corruption of the Greek agía mína (αγία μήνα), or “holy month”.The three main modern theories derive it from a French, Norse or Gaelic root. The word is first recorded in a Latin entry in 1443 annals as hagnonayse. The first appearance in English came in 1604 in the records of Elgin, as hagmonay. Subsequent 17th-century spellings include Hagmena (1677) Hogmynae night (1681), and Hagmane (1693) in an entry of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence.
It may have been introduced to Middle Scots via French. The most commonly cited explanation is a derivation from the northern French dialectal word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginane, hoginono and hoguinettes, those being derived from 16th century Middle French aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children’s cry for such a gift, or New Year’s Eve itself. Compare also the apparent Spanish cognate aguinaldo/aguilando, with a suggested Latin derivation of hoc in anno “in this year.”
This explanation is supported by a children’s tradition, observed up to the 1960s in some parts of Scotland at least, of visiting houses in their locality on New Year’s Eve and requesting and receiving small treats such as sweets or fruit. The second element would appear to be l’an neuf (the New Year), with some sources suggesting a druidical origin of the practice overall. Compare those to Norman hoguinané and the obsolete customs in Jersey of crying ma hodgîngnole, and in Guernsey of asking for an oguinane, for a New Year gift (see also La Guiannee). In Québec, “la guignolée” was a door-to-door collection for the poor.
Other suggestions include au gui mener (“lead to the mistletoe”),à gueux mener (‘bring to the beggars’), au gui l’an neuf (‘at the mistletoe the new year’, or (l’)homme est né (‘(the) man is born’). The word may have come from the Goidelic languages. Fraser and Kelley report a Manx new-year song that begins with the line To-night is New Year’s Night, Hogunnaa but did not record the full text in Manx. Gaelic consistently refers to the New Year’s Eve as Oidhche na Bliadhn(a) Ùir(e) (“the Night of the New Year”) and Oidhche Challainn (“the Night of the Calends”).
The roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The Vikings celebrated Yule,which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the “Daft Days” as they were sometimes called in Scotland. Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and Hogmanay was the more traditional celebration in Scotland.This may have been a result of the Protestant Reformation after which Christmas was seen as “too Papist”.
There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake), intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall, dark men are preferred as the first-foot. Another Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging that takes place in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. This involves local people making up “balls” of chicken wire filled with old newspaper, sticks, rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 2 feet (0.61 m), each attached to about 3 feet (0.91 m) of wire, chain or nonflammable rope. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off up the High Street from the Mercat Cross to the Cannon and back, swinging the burning balls around their heads as they go. At the end of the ceremony, any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour. In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers once carried a decorated herring. And in Falkland in Fife, local men marched in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills as midnight approached. Bakers in St Andrews baked special cakes for their Hogmanay celebration (known as “Cake Day”) and distributed them to local children.In Glasgow and the central areas of Scotland, the tradition is to hold Hogmanay parties that involve singing, dancing, eating of steak pie or stew, storytelling and drink. Many Scottish regiments, hold special dinners while at the bells, the Old Year is piped out of barrack gates. The sentry then challenges the new escort outside the gates: “Who goes there?” The answer is “The New Year, all’s well.” Another old custom in the Highlands is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (Scots for ‘protecting, blessing’) of the household and livestock. householders also drink and then sprinkle ‘magic water’ from ‘a dead and living ford’ around the house. Following the sprinkling the house is sealed up tight and branches of juniper are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre. The juniper smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers ‘a restorative’ from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to its New Year breakfast.
The Hogmanay custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” has become common in many countries. “Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots poem by Robert Burns, based on traditional and other earlier sources. It is now common to sing this in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s Day, though it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, co-ordinating with the lines of the song that contain the lyrics to do so. Typically, it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.