Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Hogmanay!

If everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, then I think there’s an argument that everyone’s at least a wee bit Scottish on New Year’s, which traditionally was a more important holiday in Scotland than Christmas. On this New Year's Eve, I want to take a break from the very serious topics of the last few days and share something a little more lighthearted.

The Scottish Kirk, which viewed Christmas as being a pagan/popish (same thing to them) holiday, caused the celebration of Christmas to be banned for hundreds of years.  Thus, New Year’s Day (similar to what happened in the Soviet Union) became the all-important winter holiday for Scots.  An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers (except for Campbells, who according to my wife’s aunt could never be trusted – Glen Coe and all that; but I have found there are noted exceptions to this rule) with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note. 

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whiskey. These days, however, whiskey and perhaps shortbread are the only items still prevalent (and available). (Source: Rampant Scotland  (from which I have copiously copied).

My wife’s family is of relatively recent Scottish descent, and in the early years of our marriage, her extended (non-LDS) family always gathered on New Year’s Day to celebrate, usually with a bottle or two of Scotch in hand.  First-footing (as well as the Highland “Second Sight”) was a custom very much believed in by her family (as were fairies – but not the gay kind), and there was certainly no shortage of shortbread of various shapes, sizes and consistencies – all decadently fattening.  Fortunately, perhaps, there was no loud playing of bagpipe music, though I enjoy some pipers as much as the next person. 

In Scotland, the traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks – a version of which my children played at in years past.  The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches.  In the Scotland of today, huge fireworks displays are held in Edinburgh and Glasgow, while traditional fire ceremonies take place in the northeastern part of the country.

And, of course, that most traditional of all New Year’s songs, Auld Lang Syne, was written – or rather collected – by the Über-Scotsman, Robert Burns.  He himself said the song was ancient and was told to him by an old Scotsman.  Based on archaic Scots, the poem’s basic message is to remember times and friends gone by.


  1. Fascinating history! Thanks for letting us in on this rich culture!

    Maybe we'll make shortbread and get some good whiskey for tonight (although I've never liked it, only the smell of Bowmore!)

    Wishing you, and all the IP bloggers, a New Year's Eve of "letting go": letting go of rules, of stringent beliefs or fears that bind and "Embracing" the moment, what is right for you and your tomorrow. My we allow ourselves to enjoy who we are today!

  2. I'm a Scot and proud of it. Got two kilts. Been to the Highlands and loved it there. I know the story of Glencoe and treat all Campbells accordingly. ;-). Thanks for a great post.

  3. Thanks for the history lesson, the beautiful video, and for blessing us all with a daily blog since shortly after October Conference. Happy New Year, Vic!

  4. I also am a Scot and have been to the highlands of Scotland. It is a beautiful place.

    Happy hogmanay to you, too.

  5. There is an old Scottish proverb which says: A midge (small biting fly) in your hand is worth two up your kilt.

    Aye, some fine Scottish poets there be. (That sounds more like pirate talk.) To name just a few: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, A.A. Milne, Edwin Muir, and, of course, the prolific Robert Louis Stevenson. I enjoyed the post and thought it fitting and proper to take license and dedicate this poem by Stevenson to today’s post.


    In the highlands, in the country places,
    Where the old plain men have rosy faces,
    And the young fair maidens
    Quiet eyes;
    Where essential silence cheers and blesses,
    And for ever in the hill-recesses
    Her more lovely music
    Broods and dies--

    O to mount again where erst I haunted;
    Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted,
    And the low green meadows
    Bright with sward;
    And when even dies, the million-tinted,
    And the night has come, and planets glinted,
    Lo, the valley hollow

    O to dream, O to awake and wander
    There, and with delight to take and render,
    Through the trance of silence,
    Quiet breath!
    Lo! for there, among the flowers and grasses,
    Only the mightier movement sounds and passes;
    Only winds and rivers,
    Life and death.


  6. Oh this song, you posted, touched me. Hardly for me to ever cry, this was the first time after 2 men had broken my heart deeply, because they were just bicurious and wasnt serious about it.. ;'(