HOGMANAY – the last day of the year

Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year that is, the thirty-first of December. This is typically followed by the new year celebrations on the morning of the first of January. In some cases, this new year celebration takes place on the second of January instead, or, the Scottish bank holiday.

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Origin of Hogmanay

The celebrations are said to date back to pagan times. People used to mark the end of harvest at the end of the year with Samhain.

Another account suggests that the festival has Nordic roots as is a celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse. The Vikings used to celebrate Yule, a midwinter festival. The duration of the celebration came to be known as daft days, where people would be found drinking, enjoying parties and bonfires while also visiting and hosting neighbors. In Scotland, Christmas was not celebrated and Hogmanay was considered as the more traditional festival to celebrate.

Traditions and rituals in HOGMANAY

First Footing

First footing is considered to be the most widely celebrated custom of the day. It starts immediately after midnight. The custom aims to be the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or a neighbors’ house. The custom also involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as shortbread, whisky, and black bun ( a dark rye bread). The giving of food and drinks is to ensure that the visitors don’t go hungry. Traditionally the visitors bring a lump of coal with them when they visit. This is done to ensure that the house remains warm.

It is considered favorable for a tall, dark-haired man to be the first visitor. This preference tracks back to invasions by the Vikings. Vikings were typically fairer haired and thus the arrival of a man with similar traits was considered to be dangerous.

Fireball swinging

This custom typically takes place in northeast Scotland. People make balls of chicken wire filled with old newspapers and other dry flammable material. These balls are up to 2 feet in diameter and are attached to a wire or chain (made up of non-flammable material) of about 3 feet in length. Moreover, at the ringing of the bell for the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off swinging the burning balls around their heads.


Considered to be an old customs of the highlands, staining (Scottish for protection) of the household and livestock, is a custom that has managed to survive to some extent. Early in on the morning of the new year’s, people of the household drink and then sprinkle ‘magic’ water from a ‘dead or living ford’ (a river ford that is routinely crossed by the dead and the living). After this, the house is sealed up and branches of juniper are set on fire. The smoke from these branches is allowed to fill up the house until they result in the coughing and sneezing of the inhabitants.

Post this, the windows and doors are flung open to let the cold fresh air of the new year in. The whole household then sits down for a new year’s breakfast after being administered a ‘restorative’ from the whisky bottle. This is usually administered by the woman of the house.


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