Why New Years in Scotland is called Hogmanay – and other interesting NYE things you didn’t know

All over the Christmas holidays I’ve been sharing this word with family and friends: Hog-ma-nay. Hogmanay. What is that? It’s what the Scots call New Year’s Eve. But WHY? No one I’ve talked to in Scotland really knows. It’s just what they call it. Does it have to do with a hog? Do you roast a whole pig on New Year’s Eve for a party? No. No. That’s not it. It’s just what they call the last day of the year. It’s a big party like we would have anywhere else in the world on the 31st of December. Actually, here in Scotland, they start a day early – today – the 30th of December. But what is the history behind that name?

THE WORD HOGMANAY

According to Wikipedia, the word was first recorded in a Latin entry in 1443 annals as hagnonayse. The first appearance in English came in 1604 in the records of Elgin, as hagmonay and has been spelled several different ways since then. The word also has roots in the 16th century Middle French word aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children’s cry for such a gift, or New Year’s Eve itself. There is a children’s tradition, observed up to the 1960s in some parts of Scotland, of visiting houses on New Year’s Eve and requesting and receiving small treats such as sweets or fruit. In Québec, “la guignolée” was a door-to-door collection for the poor.

Other suggestions include au gui mener (‘lead to the mistletoe‘), a gueux mener (‘bring to the beggars’), au gui l’an neuf (‘at the mistletoe the new year’, or(l’)homme est né (‘(the) man is born’). This last entry is most interesting to me as it has ties back to Christmas. Rampant Scotland also recognizes this as the most likely origin of the word. Did you know that Christmas was actually banned from Scotland during the Protestant Reformation – for nearly 400 years?? During that time, people had to work during Christmas, so the big celebration with family and friends became Hogmanay. Now wonder it’s such a big deal here!

GOOD LUCK CHARMS

There are also many interesting “good luck charms” associated with Hogmanay. For example, the first person to step foot in your house on New Year’s should be a tall, dark man and should bring whisky and cornbread. They call this the First Footing. In olden days, they also had to bring coal, shortbread, salt and something called “black bun.” Quite a lot for a tall, dark man to carry! (I wonder if it was also a requirement for the man to be handsome…hmm).

First Footing Ingredients - Part I
First Footing Ingredients – Part I
First Footing Ingredients - Part II
First Footing Ingredients – Part II

OTHER TRADITIONS

In Edinburgh, on the 30th of December, there’s a huge Torchlight Processional through the historic Royal Mile and of course there’s the fantastic fireworks display at Edinburgh Castle to look forward to.

Edin-hogmanay-fireworks-620x549
Edinburgh Castle at Hogmanay

About 80,000 people attend a Concert in the Gardens with live music, giant screens and outdoor bars.

Red Hot Chilli Pipers
Red Hot Chilli Pipers

On New Year’s Day, people even take an icy plunge into the River Forth in their fancy party dresses. Brrr!!! What a way to sober up.

Annual Swim at River Forth
Annual Swim at River Forth

Stonehaven also has a huge Fireball Ceremony which looks pretty awesome.

Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony
Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony

Lastly, I find it quite interesting is that the song we all sing – “Auld Lang Syne” – was written by famous Scot poet Robert Burns.

Auld Lang Syne manuscript
Original Auld Lang Syne manuscript by Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Wherever New Years finds you this year, cheers to a marvelous 2015 and Happy Hogmanay to you!

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