Set Currency: My Account (0) Item(s)

Scottish New Year (All 3 days of celebrations!)

Written by: Caitlin
Published: 30th December 2019, last updated: 30th December 2020

Hogmanay is the word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the Scottish New Year. In the Scots language New Year’s Eve has been widely known as Hogmanay since at least the 17th century. Some sources suggest it could have been adopted since Mary, Queen of Scots’ return to Scotland from France in 1561. It is thought to derive from the French word ‘hoginane’ meaning ‘gala day’.

The large Hogmanay celebrations, of the likes we see now, date back to pagan times many hundreds of years ago, when people used to mark the end of the harvest and the end of the year with a festival called Samhain.

Later, this became a midwinter yule festival, which continued when Catholicism became the nation’s main religion. The period of celebrations became known as the ‘daft days’ with people eating and drinking lots, enjoying parties and bonfires, and visiting and hosting neighbours.

Why is Scottish New Years so big?

In 1560, there were lots of arguments about how the Christian religion should be practiced in a period known as the Reformation.

People bringing in religious changes didn’t approve of all the partying and they banned or strongly discouraged feasts that were associated with Catholicism, including Christ’s Mass – that is, Christmas.

By 1640, an Act of Parliament had officially banned the Christmas break, so it is believed that this is what pushed all the partying and fun to New Year instead.

Even though this Act was partially withdrawn in the late 17th Century, new year remained the big moment for celebrating in Scotland. It was only in 1958 that Christmas became a public holiday in Scotland – later than the rest of the UK.

First Foot

The ‘first foot’ is still a very common Scottish New Year tradition. The first-footer is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day, any time after midnight, and is seen as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.

To ensure good luck, a first footer should ideally be a dark-haired male. Fair-haired first footers have not been particularly welcome since the Viking invasions of ancient times.

To first foot a household empty-handed is considered grossly discourteous, never mind unlucky! You must not only bring yourself, but a gift of some description for the kind host. Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host’s fire. A gift of a silver coin is considered good luck and represents financial prosperity, you could also bring bread, salt,  evergreen, or whiskey to represent food, flavour, long-life, and good cheer respectively.

Bonfires and Fire Celebrations

Another tradition often practised during the Scottish New Year are bonfires and fire festivals, which may have pagan or Viking origins. The use of fire to purify and drive away evil spirits is an ancient idea.

One of the most spectacular fire ceremonies that takes place today is held in Stonehaven. This unique festival sees 60 fireball swingers dressed in costume parade down the High Street swinging their lit 2ft round cages filled with paraffin soaked rags in a spectacular display to celebrate Hogmanay. The fire is thought to represent the power of the sun and again is a nod to the Winter Solstice celebrations where the fire is thought to purify the world of evil spirit.

Redding the House

Like the annual spring cleaning in some communities or the ritual cleaning of the kitchen for the Jewish festival of Passover, families traditionally did a major cleanup to ready the house for the New Year. Sweeping out the fireplace was very important and there was a skill in reading the ashes, the way some people read tea leaves.

Another part of the annual clean-up, that probably is more remembered than observed these days, was paying off all outstanding debts before the stroke of midnight.

After the big cleanup, at a time of year when fire plays such a huge part in celebrations, it’s only natural to bring a bit of it into the freshened house. And of course, soap and water and dustpans don’t really deal with all those folk from the invisible realms. So someone goes from room to room carrying a smoking juniper branch to discourage evil spirits and chase away disease.

Scottish New Year in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is where the world comes to party! And this year is set to be as huge a celebration as ever! If you happen to be in this neck of the woods, the following page is where you will find all of the essential info to make sure your Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the best New Year’s party in the world.


About the author

Written by: Caitlin

Comments on this post

  • Sue
    01/01/21 - 01:24

    Thank you.

  • Deborah
    20/03/22 - 14:37

    This article makes me want to visit Edinburgh more than ever! Thanks to the author!

Got something to say? Leave a comment