Hogmanay

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. 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. Hogmanay 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 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-haired men are preferred as the first-foot.

The 1693 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, held that Hogmanay is a corruption of the Greek agía mína (αγία μήνα), or “holy month” other theories derive it from a French, Norse or Gaelic root. The word is first recorded in a Latin entry in 1443 annals as hagnonayse. It first appeared in English in 1604 in the records of Elgin, as hagmonay. Subsequent 17th-century spellings include Hagmena (1677),Hogmynlae night (1681), and Hagmane. 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. A children’s tradition, was observed up to the 1960s which involved visiting houses in their locality on New Year’s Eve and requesting and receiving small treats such as sweets or fruit. some sources suggesting a druidical origin of the practice overall.

There is also a Norman custom 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. Hogmanay may also derive from 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’. Hogmanay may be derived from the Goidelic word Hogunna. Hogmanay may also be derived from the phrase thog mi an èigh/eugh ([hok mi ˈɲeː], “I raised the cry”), which resembles Hogmanay in pronunciation and was part of the rhymes traditionally recited at New Year. Gaelic 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, plus customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The Vikings celebrated Yule which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas. Protestant Reformation after which Christmas was seen as “too Papist and was not celebrated as a festival in Scotland with Hogmanay being the more traditional celebration.

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-haired men are preferred as the first-foot. Fireball swinging is another Hogmanay custom Which takes place in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. Another example of a pagan fire festival is the burning the clavie in the town of Burghead in Moray.

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. These usually extend into the daylight hours of 1 January. Many Scottish regiments have a Hogmanay tradition in which, officers waited on the men at 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 ancient Hogmanay custom is the saining (Scots for ‘protecting, blessing’) of the household and livestock. This takes place Early on New Year’s morning, when householders drink and then sprinkle ‘magic water’ from ‘a dead and living ford’ around the house (a ‘dead and living ford’ refers to a river ford that is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, 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.

The tradition of Hogmanay can trace it’s roots back Centuries and The 1693 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence contained one of the first mentions of the holiday in official church records. Hogmanay was treated with general disapproval. Still, in Scotland Hogmanay and New Year’s Day are as important as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Although Christmas Day held its normal religious nature in Scotland amongst its Catholic and Episcopalian communities, the Presbyterian national church, the Church of Scotland, discouraged the celebration of Christmas for nearly 400 years; it only became a public holiday in Scotland in 1958. Conversely, 1 and 2 January are public holidays and Hogmanay still is associated with as much celebration as Christmas in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate New Year’s Day with a special dinner, usually steak pie. A Viking longship is also traditionally burnt during Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay celebrations. In addition Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – hold all-night celebrations, as do Stirling and Inverness. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world. Celebrations in Edinburgh in 1996–97 were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest New Years party, with approximately 400,000 people in attendance. Numbers have since been restricted due to safety concerns. Handsel day also took place on the first Monday of the New Year during this day presents were traditionally given in Scotland. A roast dinner would be eaten to celebrate the festival. However In modern Scotland this practice has died out.

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