Happy Hogmanay from Scotland

New Years Eve is celebrated around the world but here in Scotland we call it Hogmanay!


Edinburgh Castle Fireworks at Hogmanay (Image:Edinburgh.org)

There are many theories about the meaning of the word Hogmanay, and many believe we inherited the celebration from the Vikings.


Led by Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Vikings a torchlight procession through the centre of Edinburgh kicks of this year’s Hogmanay Celebrations (Image:BBC News)

Christmas was not celebrated in Scotland until fairly recently, after the Church Reformation in the 16th Century, the celebration of Christmas was frowned on by the Church of Scotland. Christmas Day was a normal working day for most people in Scotland and it was not a public holiday until 1958. As many Scots had to work over Christmas they came together as a family at New Year instead to celebrate the winter solstice holiday. The 1st and 2nd of January are public holidays in Scotland and Hogmanay remains an important celebration.

There are many customs both national and local associated with Hogmanay

Traditional customs before midnight are making sure the house is clean and families traditionally did a big clean to ready the house for the New Year. Sweeping out the fireplace to clear the ashes before midnight was very important as was making sure any debts where settled, it was considered back luck to have debts at New Year.

As the bells begin to strike twelve, somebody should let the old year out – open the back door and sweep it out. Then go to the front door and open it to welcome the New Year in.

A traditional greeting is:-

“Welcome in New Year!

When you come, bring good cheer!”

Immediately after midnight or the bells as we call it in Scotland it is traditional to sing Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne” everyone stands in a circle and joins hands.

I think this rendition is beautiful

First footing- starts 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, coal, shortbread, whisky and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Traditionally a tall, dark handsome stranger had to be the first at the door to bring good luck for the year ahead.

Saining of the House – This is a very old rural tradition that involved blessing the house and livestock with water from a local stream, the inside of the house was also blessed room to room with a smouldering juniper branch and then the windows are opened.

Bonfires and Fire Festivals- Fireworks, torchlight processions and bonfires are common in Scotland at Hogmanay and in January and may come from ancient Pagan and Viking customs.

One of the most spectacular of these is here in the North East of Scotland -The Stonehaven Fireball Festival.

At the stroke of midnight local people swinging flaming wire cages, around their heads walk down Stonehaven High Street. The fireballs are then thrown in the harbour. The idea behind the ceremony is to burn off the bad spirits left from the old year so that the spirits of the New Year can come in clean and fresh.


All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle to light the way of a stranger. In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a ‘Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you’

It would not be Hogmanay for me without a good ceilidh dance so here is wee tune to see the year out, enjoy!


Bliadhna Mhath Ùr to you all, wishing you a very Happy New Year!


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  • Wow, okay, swinging fireballs is a way more badass way to celebrate the new year than watching an over-sized disco ball drop; color me impressed!

  • Wow, this definitely makes New Years Resolutions over here in the US an understatement. There’s so many customs and mannerisms behind the tradition for Hogmanay that it seems that having a gregarious spirit is necessary. It definitely does help in bringing inward attention with family, friends, and making sure the New Year is started off right.

    I have a friend from Scotland that I talk to online every now and then, and I’ll be sure to surprise them with something like this for the next New Year! Thanks for the informative article and the brief history behind Hogmanay. I absolutely love learning the various cultural trends like this, and those fireworks are simply amazing!

    • Your very welcome! It would be cool to surprise your friend with your new found knowledge. I also love learning about other cultures and customs hence my love of travel 🙂

  • I know it’s days now since the new year turned over, but I was browsing your blog–drawn to it by the title that makes me smile–and I am now welled up with joyful tears after watching the “Auld Lang Syne” video. I have little patience for sitting through videos on the internet, but the performance by the group was absolutely beautiful and so moving. I don’t believe that I’ve ever even heard an entire rendition of the song; I honestly only know the chorus. Tell me, were the man and older woman singing in a dialect? It started to not sound like English at that point. I’m from the US, so maybe it was just my American ears failing me when you add the Scottish accent. I could listen to a Scottish accent all day, by the way. Straying from the topic here a bit, but I worked once in an office at the local university and one of the professors was from Scotland. I would always hope to be in the vicinity when he struck up a conversation with somebody and I would crane my neck to eavesdrop if I could! But, back to the performance . . . just lovely. The meaning of Auld Lang Syne (those words, as well as the whole song) escapes me. I will have to put that bit of research on my never ending knowledge-seeking list!

    • Glad you enjoyed it I think its lovely too! Well spotted the man and older woman are singing in Scots Gaelic which just happens to be my first language thats probably why I chose that clip. Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns our famous poet and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. Auld Lang Syne could be translated from Scots to English as “old long since” its traditional to be sung as a farewell or at the ending of a special occasion if that makes sense! It is basically about friendships and new beginnings. It is quite common in Scotland for this to be sung at the end of a wedding and everyone joins hands on the dance floor!

  • Absolutely beautiful! I had no idea what a wonderful celebration New Year’s Eve was in Scotland, or that is was called Hogmanay! I remember reading Auld Lang Syne when I was a teenager, and I had not known before that, that it was a poem before it was a song. Wonderful video too!

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