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The magic and origins of Hogmanay Scotland’s New Year

Posted on 17th January 2016
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Karnival Costume blog post on Hogmanay Scotland's New Year celebrations

The Magic and Origins of Hogmanay Scotland's New Year Celebrations

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Having just about recovered from the change from last year to this, we thought we’d take a quick look at the origins Hogmanay, the celebration that is so extreme, you need two days to recover!
In this blog, we’ll look at what Hogmanay actually means and what is the derivation of the name. We’ll also try to get an understanding as to why the Scots, more than any other nation, celebrate the start of the New Year with such passion. We’ll also take a look at some of the rather odd traditions surrounding the festival. So if you want to know why you should welcome a first footer into your home and why they should be carrying a lump of coal and a slice of a bun, then read on……
The Origins of Hogmanay
While people around the world celebrate New Year's Eve, the Scots have a long history and rich heritage associated with this event. And it’s the |Scots who gave it its own name; Hogmanay.
So where did the name “Hogmanay” derived from?  Well there are many theories regarding the origin and we’re afraid that you’ll have to make your own mind up. The Scandinavians have a word for the feast that precedes Yule; "Hoggo-nott" while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) "hoog min dag" means "great love day". Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was "aguillaneuf" while in Normandy presents given at that time were "hoguignetes". As we said, take your pick as to which is your favourite origin.
Hogmanay Celebrations and Traditions
Historians and researchers believe that the celebration of Hogmanay was inherited from a celebration from the Vikings where the passing of the shortest day in mid-winter was the day to be celebrated and in Shetland, where the influence of the Vikings is strongest, New Year is still referred to as Yules, from the Scandinavian word.
For a huge part of Scotland’s history, Christmas was celebrated as a festival and it was virtually banned in Scotland for hundreds right through to the 1950s, just a few decades ago. This resulted from the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk (church) declared that Christmas was a Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Scots worked over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year, a time when family and friends celebrated together and exchanged presents and this is the time which became Hogmanay.
There are many traditions surrounding Hogmanay and some of these are similar to those found around the world. These include, that before midnight on December 31st, the house should be cleaned (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common) and that all of your debts should be cleared before the bells are sounded at midnight. Similar traditions can be found as far away as in the Chinese celebrations of their New Year!
As the tolling of the midnight bells fade away and the New Year begins, it’s traditional to sing "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns. Burns claimed it was actually based on an earlier fragment and certainly the tune was in print over 80 years before he published his version in 1788.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne 
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, 
We'll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
The major underlying element of the Hogmanay celebrations and which continues through into today’s parties is to welcome friends and strangers with equally warm hospitality wishing everyone a “Guid New Year”.
Modernism is seeing off many of these traditions and another on the decline is "First footing" which refers to the "first foot" in the house after midnight. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and they should traditionally bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. These days, however, whisky and shortbread are preferred – and more readily available.
In all these beliefs and traditions, the underlying concepts can be seen to be clearing out the vestiges of the old year, creating a clean break and the welcoming in of a New Year on a happy note.
And it is worth remembering that January 2nd is a holiday in Scotland as well as the first day of the year - to give time to recover from a week of merry-making and celebration surrounding the pagan festival of Hogmanay.
To help you recreate the magic of Hogmanay in your own New Year’s Eve party, or any Scots theme party, here at Karnival Costumes, we've a huge selection of Scottish costumes, costume accessories as well as Scottish decorations including flags and bunting plus a collection or suitable tablewares.
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