Learn more about Hogmanay
Hogmanay (pronounced [ˌhɔgməˈneː] — with the main stress on the last syllable - hog-muh-NAY) is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. Its official date is the 31 December. However this is normally only the start of a celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of the 1 January or, in many cases, 2 January, which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.
The roots of Hogmanay reach back to the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. In Europe, this evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia, a great Roman winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later became the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.
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 fruit pudding) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts, and often Flies cemetery) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day. The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year, so it is important that a suitable person does the job. A tall, handsome, and dark-haired man bearing a gift is strongly preferred. According to popular folklore, a man with dark hair was welcomed because he was assumed to be a fellow Scotsman; a blonde or red haired stranger was assumed to be an unwelcome Norseman.
An example of a local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging which takes place in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire in north-east Scotland. This involves local people making up balls of chicken wire, tar, paper and other flammable material to a diameter of about a metre. Each ball has 2 m of wire, chain or non-flammable rope attached. The balls are then each assigned to a swinger who swings the ball round and round their head and body by the rope while walking through the streets of Stonehaven from the harbour to the Sheriff court and back. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs which are still burning are cast into the harbour. Many people enjoy this display which is more impressive in the dark than it would be during the day. As a result large crowds flock to the town to see it.
The Hogmanay custom of singing Auld Lang Syne (a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns which was later set to music is commonly practiced), has become common in many countries. Outside Scotland the words are often corrupted with a common mistake being to sing "For the Sake of Auld Lang Syne" in the place of "For auld lang syne!"
 Presbyterian Influence
The Presbyterian Church generally disapproved of Hogmanay. The following quote is one of the first mentions of the holiday in official church records:
"It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane." 1692 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence (ed. 2) p82.
Until the 1960s, Hogmanay and Ne'erday (a contraction of "New Year's Day" in Scots dialect, according to the OED) in Scotland took the place of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the rest of the UK. Although Christmas Day held its normal religious nature, the Presbyterian national church, the Church of Scotland, had discouraged its celebration for over 300 years. As a result Christmas Day was a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960s and even into the 1970s in some areas. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were held between the 31 December and 2 January rather than between 24 December and 26 December.
With the fading of the Church's influence and the introduction of English cultural values via television and immigration, the transition to Christmas feasting was well-nigh complete by the 1980s. However, 1 January and 2 January remain public holidays in Scotland, despite the addition of Christmas Day and Boxing Day to the public holiday list, and Hogmanay still is associated with as much celebration as Christmas in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate Ne'erday with a special dinner, usually steak pie.
As in the rest of the world, the four largest Scottish cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, hold all-night celebrations, as does Stirling. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world, though in 2003-4 most of the organised events were cancelled at short notice due to very high winds.
 Handsel Day
Historically presents were given in Scotland on the first Monday of the New Year. This would be celebrated often by the employer giving his staff presents and parents giving children presents. A roast dinner would be eaten to celebrate the festival. Handsel was a word for gift box and hence Handsel Day. In modern Scotland this practice has died out.
The etymology of the word is obscure. It may have been introduced to Middle Scots through the Auld Alliance. In 1604 the custom was mentioned in the Elgin Records as hagmonay. The most satisfactory explanation is a derivation the from Northern French dialect word hoginane or variants such as hoginono and hoguinettes. Those being derived from 16th century Old French aguillanneuf which is either a gift given at New Year, a children's cry for such a gift or New Year's Eve itself. The second element would appear to be l'an neuf i.e. the New Year. 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.
Other suggestions include:
- Scottish Gaelic Og-Mhadainn/h' og maidne ("new morning")
- The Gaelic expression "theacht mean oiche" ("the arrival of midnight", pronounced "heacht meawn eehe")
- Gaelic ocht mean oiche ("eighth midnight" (from Christmas))
- Old English haleg monaþ ("Holy Month")
- Manx word Hop-tu-Naa (31st October) - the Old Celtic new year.
- French au gui mener ("lead to the mistletoe"), au gui l'an neuf ("to the mistletoe the new year"), (l')homme est né ("(the) man is born")
- Flemish hoog min dag ("day of great love")
- Greek αγια μηνη ("holy month")
- Spanish aguinaldo ("Christmas gift")
John Brand's Popular Antiquities (1859) describes a custom in Kent of going a hodening at Christmas, going round the houses in procession and singing carols, accompanied by a sort of hobby-horse. See wassail.
- Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, Brand, London, 1859
- Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernesiais, de Garis, Chichester, 1982
- Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français, Le Maistre, Jersey, 1966
- 1692 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, Edinburgh
- Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh
 External links
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- Hogmanay.net - the home of Scotland's Hogmanay
- Edinburgh's Hogmanay Official Web Site
- Chambers Book of Days Handsel Day Page
- Scottish Hogmanay Customs and Traditions