Discover the origins of Scotland’s favourite time of year
LET’S face it – no one throws a better Hogmanay party than the Scots. Our New Year celebrations are revered around the world, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of revellers. In fact, we hold the Guinness World Record for the largest New Year’s Eve party – around 400,000 people attended the 1996/97 celebrations in Edinburgh.
It’s a long-standing joke that the celebrations are so big that Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, gets an extra Bank Holiday to recover on January 2. Indeed, the Scots have had New Year’s Day off since Bank Holidays were first registered in 1871, which is quite remarkable considering that Christmas Day didn’t become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958!
What is it about bringing in the New Year that attracts so much merriment in this country – even more so than Christmas Day?
A lot of this has to do with the fact that Christmas itself was banned Scotland-wide for hundreds of years.
The popularity of Christmas had risen with Catholicism, adapting native pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice.
After the Protestant reformation in 1560, reformers were keen to suppress any celebrations associated with the Catholic Church, including Christmas – or “Christ’s Mass”.
In 1640, the Parliament of Scotland’s Yule Vacance Act abolished the “Yule vacation and all observation thereof in time coming” – officially cancelling Christmas for the entire nation.
Hogmanay celebrations – or variants thereof – on the other hand had been celebrated in Scotland long before Catholicism. Having no religious ties, the celebrations were safe from reformation. bringing in the New Year became the focal point for merriment in long winter months.
The origins of Hogmanay have long been debated. The general consensus is that it’s an amalgamation of Norse, Gaelic and French traditions, and you can see these influences in celebrations across Scotland today.
Invading Vikings marked the winter solstice with fire and revelry – giving us bonfires, the Stonehaven Fireballs and the later Up Helly Aa in Shetland.
The word Hogmanay itself may well come from the French hoguinané, which means a gift given at New Year. This would certainly explain our Hogmanay tradition of First Footing, where the first foot through your door in the New Year should bring a gift.
No matter the origins, even now – long after Christmas was recognised and publicly celebrated – Hogmanay is still the loudest celebration on the Scottish calendar.
This year is no exception, and the loudest of all the festivals is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2019. This three-night extravaganza of events includes a Candlelit Concert in St Giles’ Cathedral, torchlit procession, Concert in the Gardens headlined by Franz Ferdinand, Ceilidh Under The Castle, extensive fireworks display and, of course, the famous outdoor street party.