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.