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Hogmanay is the Scots word for the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. Its official date is the 31st of December. However this is normally only the start of a celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of the 1st or, in many cases, the 2nd of January.

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 coal, shortbread or silverware intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. 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, dark man bearing a gift is preferred.

An example of a local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging which takes place in Stonehaven 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, or three feet. Each ball has two metres (six feet) 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, an old Scottish song made popular by Robert Burns, has become common in many countries.

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 31st of December and the 2nd of January rather than between the 24th and 26th of 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.

When Ne'erday falls on a Sunday, 3 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Saturday, both 3 January and 4 January will be public holidays in Scotland.

As in the rest of the world, the four largest Scottish cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, hold all-night celebrations. 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.


The etymology of the word is obscure. Suggestions that have been made include Scottish Gaelic oige maidne ("youth of morning"); Old English haleg monaþ ("Holy Month"), Norman French hoguinané, from Old French anguillanneuf ("gift at New Year"); French au gui mener ("lead to the mistletoe"); and Flemish hoog min dag ("day of great love"). However none of these is more than guesswork. The suggestion that the word is actually a corruption of "Hug-me-now" referring to the Hogmanay custom of kissing fellow revellers, known or unknown, is as likely to be true.

External links

  • - the home of Scotland's Hogmanay
  • Edinburgh's Hogmanay Official Web Site

Last updated: 02-07-2005 06:20:41
Last updated: 02-17-2005 09:01:40