In Scotland, New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) is celebrated in a distinctly Scottish style with customs rooted in some of the country’s oldest traditions.
The tradition of “First Footing” begins at midnight. The First Foot is the first person to step across the threshold of the home in the new year, bringing blessings and good fortune for the rest of the year. Traditionally, a tall dark-haired male first foot is considered to bring the most luck & warmth to the home, although anyone bearing the usual gifts of bread & salt will be sufficient. In some parts of Scotland and Northern England, it is customary to have the youngest child with the darkest hair cross the threshold first.
Whiskey, bread, salt, and candles are all customary gifts to bring into the home at New Years. On New Years Day, many people host a kind of “open house” where guests come for a drink or for dinner, bringing small tokens of prosperity and revelry – it’s not uncommon for neighbours to share baking, wine, or hand made tokens of friendship.
Each area of Scotland has it’s own traditions and rituals when it comes to Hogmanay. In Aberdeenshire, locals will swing large balls of fire on a chain around their heads as they parade through the streets. This firey tradition is said to come from the old Viking Yule celebrations. The fire was a symbol of light beginning to return to earth after the darkest day of the year was over.
In Dundee, first footers would carry a decorated fish – usually herring – into the home. Hogmanay parties in Glasgow are often all-night affairs involving dancing, singing, and the consumption of hearty meat pies and lots of whiskey. Highlanders perform a saining (blessing) of livestock and property by sprinkling water from a “dead and living ford” throughout the house and along the property line, while juniper bushes are used as a kind of “smudge”, or smoke bath, dispelling old energy and pesky spirit folk from the newly blessed living area. All over the country, people take part in torch processions, feasts, parties and promenades. Most of these traditions hail from old Gaelic/Celtic/Pictish traditions that have been passed along through the ages in one form or another.
Even the most commonly recognized New Year’s song, Auld Lang Syne, is a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Auld Lang Syne is recognized all over the world, and usually played at midnight, just as the year turns. It can also be heard at funerals and closing ceremonies – any occasion where one might say goodbye with one’s whole heart.