glimpse

Hogmanay

What is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year, celebrated on 31st December, usually in a most exuberant fashion. In the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh it has become a huge ticketed festival. Celebrations start in the early evening and reach a crescendo by midnight. Bells chime at midnight, there is an orgy of kissing and everyone sings Auld Lang Syne.

Elsewhere in Scotland, particularly in more remote parts, customary first footing and ceilidhs take place. For centuries, fire ceremonies -- torch light processions, fireball swinging and lighting of New Year fires -- played an important part in the Hogmanay celebrations. And they still do.

Where did the word Hogmanay come from?

Nobody knows for sure where the word "Hogmanay" came from. Opinions differ as to whether it originated from the Gaelic oge maidne ("new morning"), Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath ("Holy Month"), or Norman French word hoguinane, which was derived from the Old French anguillanneuf ("gift at New Year"). It's also been suggested that it came from the French au gui mener ("lead to the mistletoe") or a Flemish combo hoog ("high" or "great"), min ("love" or "affection") and dag ("day"). Take your pick.

What are the origins of Hogmanay?

Hogmanay's roots reach back to the pagan practice of sun and fire worship in the deep mid-Winter. This evolved into the ancient Saturnalia, a great Roman Winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which became the twelve days of christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they became known in Scotland. The Winter festival went underground with the Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged at the end of the 17th Century. Since then the customs have continued to evolve to the modern day.

It is only in recent years that Hogmanay has been celebrated on such a large scale: the first event of its kind was at "Summit in the City" in 1992 when Edinburgh hosted the European Union Heads of State conference. Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival was so successful that it spawned similar events throughout Scotland.

What is the symbolism of fire at Hogmanay?

The flame and fire at Hogmanay symbolises many things. The bringing of the light of knowledge from one year to the next, lighting the way into the next uncharted century, putting behind you the darkness past, but carrying forward its sacred flame of hope and enlightenment to a better parish, and in this day, world.

What is First Footing?

Traditionally, it has been held that your new year will be a prosperous one if, at the strike of midnight, a "tall, dark stranger" appears at your door with a lump of coal for the fire, or a cake or coin. In exchange, you offered him food, wine or a wee dram of whisky, or the traditional Het Pint, which is a combination of ale, nutmeg and whisky. It's been sugggested that the fear associated with blond strangers arose from the memory of blond-haired Viking's raping and pillaging Scotland circa 4th to 12th centuries.

What's more likely to happen these days is that groups of friends or family get together and do a tour of each others' houses. Each year, a household takes it in turn to provide a meal for the group. In many parts of Scotland gifts or "Hogmananys" are exchanged after the turn of midnight.

© 2017 Scottish Heritage Society of Iowa. All Rights Reserved