Dec 31 2024 - Jan 02 2025


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Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle
Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the old year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year’s Day or in some cases, 2 January.

Every year as the long winter nights creep by, Scots look forward to the biggest party of the calendar when, by tradition, we defy the darkness to see out the old year, and welcome in the new.


The tradition of first footing requires that the first visitor of the New Year should be a tall, dark and handsome stranger, and come bearing a gift of coal, to bring good luck for the coming year. The requirement for dark hair, it is said, echoes a time when a blonde-haired stranger on one’s doorstep meant a visit from Viking raiders, and spelt very bad luck indeed!

The various local traditions found in Scotland centred around fires also hark back to the ancient past. In the pagan winter celebrations, fire symbolised the newly resurgent sun coming back to the land, and was believed to ward off evil spirits dwelling in the darkness. Fires still play a major part in Hogmanay celebrations, with torchlight processions, bonfires and fireworks popular throughout Scotland. In Stonehaven, in North East Scotland there is a long-standing tradition of making giant fireballs (weighing up to 10 kilos!) from rags doused in paraffin, swung on poles and paraded through the town’s streets.

A more recent tradition, and one that has spread from Scotland to the whole of the English-speaking world, is the singing at the stroke of midnight of Robert Burns’ poem Auld Lang Syne, set to a traditional Scottish folk melody. The Scottish national bard’s nostalgic ode to times gone by rings in the New Year in all corners of the world, and though we may sometimes wince at the pronunciation, we can surely appreciate the sentiment.

Like any festive occasion, Hogmanay is a time to enjoy food and drink, and has its own gastronomic traditions. Fruitcake, shortbread and black bun are the customary morsels to offer guests, and to present to hosts when first footing. A flute of champagne lends a celebratory sparkle to any occasion, but the only drink with which to toast the bells at Hogmanay is of course Scotch whisky.

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