Hogmanay CelebrationsCategory: Customs + Festivals
Hogmanay is a Scottish name for New Year’s Eve, and is a time for merrymaking, the giving of presents and the observance of the old custom of First-Footing. One of the most interesting of Scottish Hogmanay celebrations is the Flambeaux Procession at Comrie, Perthshire. Such processions can be traced back to the time of the ancient Druids. There is a procession of townsfolk in fancy dress carrying large torches. They are led by pipers. When the procession has completed its tour, the flambeaux (torches) are thrown into a pile, and everyone dances around the blaze until the torches have burned out.
In parts of Northern England and in Scotland the old custom of First-Footing is still observed. Tradition says that the first person to enter a house on New Year’s Day should be a dark-haired man, otherwise ill-luck will follow. It is also advisable that the person should bring with him a gift — a piece of coal, a fish, a bottle of whisky or a piece of bread are traditional gifts. Curiously enough, in a few other parts of the country, the First-Footer is required to be a fair-haired man! In the past, young men of the right colouring and with an eye to business would offer their service as First-Footer to households in the district — for a small fee.
The Night of Hogmanay
Nowhere else in Britain is the arrival of the New Year celebrated so wholeheartedly as in Scotland.
Throughout Scotland, the preparations for greeting the New Year start with a minor “spring-cleaning”. Brass and silver must be glittering and fresh linen must be put on the beds. No routine work may be left unfinished; stockings must be darned, tears mended, clocks wound up, musical instruments tuned, and pictures hung straight. In addition, all outstanding bills are paid, overdue letters written and borrowed books returned. At least, that is the idea!
Most important of all, there must be plenty of good things to eat. Innumerable homes “reek of a celestial grocery” — plum puddings and currant buns, spices and cordials, apples and lemons, tangerines and toffee. In mansion and farmhouse, in suburban villa and city tenement, the table is spread with festive fare. Essential to Hogmanay are “cakes and kebbuck” (oatcakes and cheese), shortbread, and either black bun or currant loaf. These are flanked with bottles of wine and the “mountain dew” that is the poetic name for whisky.
In the cities and burghs, the New Year receives a communal welcome, the traditional gathering-place being the Mercat Cross, the hub and symbol of the old burgh life. In Edinburgh, however, the crowd has slid a few yards down the hill from the Mercat Cross to the Tron Kirk — being lured thither, no doubt, by the four-faced clock in the tower. As the night advances, Princes Street becomes as thronged as it normally is at noon, and there is growing excitement in the air. Towards midnight, all steps turn to the Tron Kirk, where a. lively, swaying crowd awaits “the Chapplin o’ the Twal” (the striking of 12 o’clock). As the hands of the clock in the tower approach the hour, a hush falls on the waiting throng, the atmosphere grows tense, and then suddenly there comes a roar from a myriad throats. The bells peal forth, the sirens scream — the New Year is born!
Many families prefer to bring in the New Year at home, with music or dancing, cards or talk. As the evening advances, the fire is piled high — for the brighter the fire, the better the luck. The members of the household seat themselves round the hearth, and when the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the house rises, goes to the main door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of midnight has died away. Then he shuts it quietly and returns to the family circle. He has let the Old Year out and the New Year, in. Now greetings and small gifts are exchanged, glasses are filled — and already the First-Footers are at the door.
The First-Footer, on crossing the threshold, greets the family with “A gude New Year to ane and a’!” or simply “A Happy New Year!”, and pours out a glass from the flask he carries. This must be drunk to the dregs by the head of the house, who, in turn, pours out a glass for each of his visitors. The glass handed to the First-Footer himself must also be drunk to the dregs. A popular toast is:
“Your good health!”
The First-Footers must take something to eat as well as to drink, and after an exchange of greetings they go off again on their rounds.