If you plan to visit Scotland (particularly Edinburgh) around New Year, remember to book your tickets and plan the visit such that you get to spend Hogmanay here. If you are wondering what Hogmanay is, read on.
My first memory of registering this word was when a dear friend said to me, “Oh, how lucky! You get to spend Hogmanay in Edinburgh. You are going to have fun!” I smiled, nodded and said Yay. And then I went home and had to Google the word (it’s funny how Google is a verb now, but that’s a discussion for another day). So Hogmanay is the Scottish word for last day of the year. The origin of this word has been attributed to French, Gaelic and Norse and if you care about the origin of the word, maybe you can Google it and read through the many articles and enlighten me by dropping a line in the comments (I would really appreciate that). What I intend to do is to take you through my own experience of the Hogmanay in Edinburgh through a series of 3 posts. I hope you enjoy reading through these as much as I enjoy reliving my moments.
The Hogmanay and the celebrations associated with it seem to have been brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings who celebrated in a big way the winter solstice (Yule). Scotland has a huge Protestant history and for a very long time, Christmas was not the major celebration in this country. People worked through Christmas but celebrated the winter solstice and the year end with friends and family in a big way. Speaking to the locals, I came across a lot of traditions that are to be followed during the celebrations and before the bells ring at midnight on Hogmanay. This includes scrubbing and cleaning the house, clearing the ashes from the fireplace and clearing off all the debts. I suppose it resonates with the idea of starting the new year with less baggage and calling it a blank slate. It also involves visiting friends and family and carrying gifts for them.
Immediately after midnight, they sing songs/poems by Robert Burns (but I didn’t see that here in Edinburgh; I should also mention that the traditions are slightly different in different parts of Scotland). The tradition and belief in the ‘first-foot’ was more interesting to me. The ‘first-foot’ or ‘qualtagh’ is the first person to enter the household post midnight. The Scottish believe that for good fortune, this person must be a tall dark-haired man and must carry with some some gifts (could be a coin – silver in those days, coal, bread, whisky, etc). I was curious as to why the first person to enter must be a man and why he should have dark hair. Some didn’t know why. The others speculated that it might have to do with the fact that fair men with blonde hair in those early days were likely to be Viking invaders them knocking on your door couldn’t have been a good omen.
I hope this small narrative about the traditions has got you a bit more interested in the next couple of posts in this series. In my next post I will write about the torchlight procession and street parties…See you soon!