Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year --or-- Hogmanay and First Footing

(Hat tip: Kim Rowe/via email) The Scots have become renowned the world over for the manner in which they celebrate the coming of a new year. Many may say that today the Scottish Hogmanay traditions are vanishing, but there are some areas of Scotland where even in these modern times, old traditions die hard!

The name "Hogmanay" is said to come from the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath (Holy Month), or the Gaelic oge maidne (New Morning). Whatever the origin of the name, it has remained in the conscience of the Scottish people for many centuries. Such was the importance of Hogmanay, it was once the custom in Scotland to give gifts on the first of January, and indeed until the 18th century the number of gifts given then far outshone those given at Christmas. It is only very recently that some parts of Scotland ended the practice of giving tokens to children, which themselves were called "hogmanays".

It's traditional in Scotland to go "first-footing" on Hogmanay, a wonderful excuse to go out visiting friends and partying all night. In all the traditions and customs of Hogmanay, one theme survives, that the new year must begin on a happy note, with a clean break from all that may have been bad in the old year. It is from this underlying theme that the most common of all Hogmanay traditions has its root, the new year resolution. Another but much later tradition is the singing of Auld Lang Syne, with the most popular variation written by Robert Burns in about 1793.

Certain things are essential to make your New Year go with a swing. The first person to cross the threshold at Hogmanay brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead. And, to follow in tradition they have to fulfill certain criteria. He has to be male, tall, dark and handsome. He cannot be a doctor, minister or grave-digger (!) - oh, and your first footer cannot have eyebrows that meet in the middle! He must bring with him a piece of coal, and silver (used to be a sixpence). The reason for this is that the tall dark stranger brings luck into the house, the coal means warmth throughout the coming year and the silver means the household will not be short of money for that year. Being a First Footer is great because tradition dictates that the man can claim a kiss from every lady in the place!

Wishing a body a’ the best...


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