Hogmanay: Wikis


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Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Hogmanay (pronounced IPA: [ˌhɔɡməˈneː] —) is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. It is, however, normally only the start of a celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of New Year's Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.



The etymology of the word is obscure. It may have been introduced to Middle Scots through the Auld Alliance. In 1604 the custom was mentioned in the Elgin Records as hagmonay. The most satisfactory explanation is a derivation from the Northern French dialect word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginane, hoginono and hoguinettes. Those being derived from 16th century Old French aguillanneuf which is either a gift given at New Year, a children's cry for such a gift or New Year's Eve itself.[1] The second element would appear to be l'an neuf i.e. the New Year. Compare those to Norman hoguinané and the obsolete customs in Jersey of crying ma hodgîngnole, and in Guernsey of asking for an oguinane, for a New Year gift.

Other suggestions include:

  • Scottish Gaelic Òg-Mhadainn/h-òg-mhaidne ('new morning')
  • The Irish expression "theacht meán oíche" ('the arrival of midnight', pronounced 'heacht meawn eehe')
  • Gaelic ochd meadhan oidhche ('eighth midnight' (eighth night from Christmas))
  • Old English haleg monaþ ('Holy Month')
  • Manx word Hop-tu-Naa (31 October) - the Old Gaelic new year.
  • French hoguinané ('a New Year's gift'), au gui mener ('lead to the mistletoe'), au gui l'an neuf ('to the mistletoe the new year'), or (l')homme est né ('(the) man is born')[2]
  • Dutch hoog min dag ('day of great love')
  • Greek αγια μηνη ('holy month')
  • Spanish aguinaldo ('Christmas gift')
  • Goidelic word of unknown source

John Brand's Popular Antiquities (1859) describes a custom in Kent of 'going a hodening' at Christmas, going round the houses in procession and singing carols, accompanied by a sort of hobby-horse. (See Wassail)


The roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain. In Rome, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia, a great winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.


There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year.

Local customs

Each area of Scotland often developed its own particular Hogmanay ritual.

Catalonian Sun Goddess from the Hogmanay Street Party, Edinburgh 2005
Stonehaven Fireballs Ceremony 2003

An example of a local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging that takes place in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire in north-east Scotland. This involves local people making up 'balls' of chicken wire filled with old news paper, dried sticks, old cotton rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 60 cm. Each ball has approximately 1 m of wire, chain or nonflammable rope attached. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off up the High Street from the Mercat Cross to the Cannon and back, swinging their burning ball around their head as they go for as many times as they and their fireball last. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour. Many people enjoy this display, which is more impressive in the dark than it would be during the day. As a result large crowds flock to the town to see it,[3] with 12,000 attending the 2007/2008 event.[4] In recent years, additional attractions have been added to entertain the crowds as they wait for midnight, such as fire poi, a pipe band, street drumming and a firework display after the last fireball is cast into the sea. The festivities are now streamed live over the Internet.[3]

Another example of a pagan fire festival is the the burning of the clavie which takes place in the town of Burghead in Moray.

In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers used to carry a decorated herring while in Falkland in Fife, local men would go in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills as midnight approached. Bakers in St Andrews would bake special cakes for their Hogmanay celebration (known as 'Cake Day') and distribute them to local children.

In Glasgow and the central areas of Scotland, the tradition is to hold Hogmanay parties involving singing, dancing, the eating of steak pie or stew, storytelling and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, which usually extend into the daylight hours of January 1.

Institutions also had their own traditions. For example, amongst the Scottish regiments, the officers had to wait on the men at special dinners while at the bells, the Old Year is piped out of barrack gates. The sentry then challenges the new escort outside the gates: 'Who goes there?' The answer is 'The New Year, all's well.'[5]

An old custom in the Highlands, which has survived to a small extent and seen some degree of revival, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (Scots for 'protecting, blessing') of the household and livestock. This is done early on New Year's morning with copious, choking clouds of smoke from burning juniper branches, and by drinking and then sprinkling 'magic water' from 'a dead and living ford' around the house ('a dead and living ford' refers to a river ford which is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, the house is sealed up tight and the burning juniper carried through the house and byre. The smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers 'a restorative' from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to their New Year breakfast.[6]

"Auld Lang Syne"

The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become common in many countries. "Auld Lang Syne" is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is now common for this to be sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, although in Scotland the traditional practice is to cross arms only for the last verse.[7]

In the media

During the years 1957 - 68 a New Year's Eve television programme, called "The White Heather Club", was used to herald in the Hogmanay celebrations.

The show was presented by Andy Stewart who always began by singing "Come in, come in, it's nice to see you...." The show always ended with Andy Stewart and the cast singing, "Haste ye Back"

Haste ye back, we loue you dearly,
Call again you're welcome here.
May your days be free from sorrow,
And your friends be ever near.
May the paths o'er which you wander,
Be to you a joy each day.
Haste ye back we loue you dearly,
Haste ye back on friendship's way.

The performers were Jimmy Shand and band, Ian Powrie and his band, Scottish country dancers: Dixie Ingram and the Dixie Ingram Dancers, Joe Gordon Folk Four, James Urquhart, Ann & Laura Brand, Moira Anderson & Kenneth McKellar. All the dancers, and Andy Stewart, wore kilts, and the women dancers wore long white dresses with tartan sashes. The show was so successful that in the early 60's there was a company touring Scottish theatres, containing many of the performers. The show was filmed in Glasgow, at that time the only large TV studio in Scotland.The show contained many of the same performers plus special guests such as Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter in comedy sketches. The White Heather Club was also a weekly TV series and replaced an earlier Hogmanay show called The Kilt is My Delight which ran from 1953-1957. Following the demise of the White Heather Club, Andy Stewart regularly featured in TV Hogmanay Shows until his retirement. His last appearance was in 1992. His shows included Andy's Party and the Andy Stewart show. In the 1980s comedian Andy Cameron presented the Hogmanay show on BBC Scotland while Peter Morrison presented a show called "A Highland Hogmanay" on STV/Grampian. This was axed in 1993.

About 10 minutes before the end of Lewis Black's special "Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black" on the History Channel, Craig Ferguson described Hogmanay as follows: "In Scotland, New Year's is called Hogmanay. And it is a time when people who can inspire awe in the IRISH for the amount of ALCOHOL that they drink decide to RAMP IT UP a notch."

Presbyterian influence

The Presbyterian Church generally disapproved of Hogmanay. The following quote is one of the first mentions of the holiday in official church records:

'It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane.'[8]

Still in Scotland Hogmanay and Ne'erday is as or more important than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the rest of the UK.

Although Christmas Day held its normal religious nature in Scotland amongst its Catholic and Presbyterian communities. The Presbyterian national church, the Church of Scotland, it had discouraged the celebration of Hogmany for over 400 years.

With the fading of the Church's influence and the introduction of English cultural values via television and immigration[citation needed], the transition to Christmas feasting was well-nigh complete by the 1980s. However, 1 January and 2 January remain public holidays in Scotland, despite the addition of Christmas Day and Boxing Day to the public holiday list, and Hogmanay still is associated with as much celebration as Christmas in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate Ne'erday with a special dinner, usually steak pie.[9]


A Viking longship is burnt during Edinburgh's annual Hogmanay celebrations.

When Ne'erday falls on a Sunday, 3 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Saturday, both 3 January and 4 January will be public holidays in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Friday, 4 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland.

As in much of the world, the largest Scottish cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen hold all-night celebrations, as does Stirling. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world, although in 2003-4 most of the organised events were cancelled at short notice due to very high winds. The Stonehaven Fireballs went ahead as planned, however, with approximately 6000 brave souls braving the stormy weather to watch 42 fireball swingers process along the High Street.[10] Similarly, the 2006-07 celebrations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling were all cancelled on the day, again due to high winds and heavy rain.[11] The Aberdeen celebration, however, went ahead, and was opened by the pop music group, Wet Wet Wet.

Handsel Day

Historically, presents were given in Scotland on the first Monday of the New Year. This would be celebrated often by the employer giving his staff presents and parents giving children presents. A roast dinner would be eaten to celebrate the festival. Handsel was a word for gift box and hence Handsel Day.[citation needed] In modern Scotland this practice has died out.


  1. ^ Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Edited by Ronald Black. Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7 p. 575: "'Hogmanay' is French in origin. In northern French dialect it was hoguinané, going back to Old French aguillaneuf, meaning a gift given on New Year's eve or the word cried out in soliciting it."
  2. ^ Hogmanay 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  3. ^ a b Stonehaven Fireball Association photos and videos of festivities. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  4. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal 2 Jan 2008. "around 12,000 turned out in Stonehaven to watch the town's traditional fireball ceremony". Retrieved 3 January 2008.
  5. ^ 'Hogmanay Traditions' at Scotland's Tourism Board. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  6. ^ McNeill, F. Marian (1961). "X Hogmany Rites and Superstitions". The Silver Bough, Vol.3: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Halloween to Yule. Glasgow: William MacLellan. p. 113. ISBN 0-948474-04-1. 
  7. ^ "Queen stays at arm's length". Lancashire Evening Telegraph, 5 January 2000.
  8. ^ 1692 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence (ed. 2) p. 82.
  9. ^ 'Scottish Hogmanay Customs and Traditions at New Year' at About Aberdeen. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  10. ^ 'History of the Stonehaven Fireballs Ceremony', 3 January 2008, at Stonehaven Fireballs Association. Retrieved 3 January 2008.
  11. ^ 'Weather spoils Hogmanay parties', 1 January 2007, at BBC News, Scotland. Retrieved 21 December 2007.


  • Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, Brand, London, 1859
  • Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernesiais, de Garis, Chichester, 1982
  • Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français, Le Maistre, Jersey, 1966
  • 1692 Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, Edinburgh
  • Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HOGMANAY, the name in Scotland and some parts of the north of England for New Year's Eve, as also for the cake then given to the children. On the morning of the 31st of December the children in small bands go from door to door singing: "Hogmanay Trollolay Gie's o' your white bread and nane o' your grey"; and begging for small gifts or alms. These usually take the form of an oaten cake. The derivation of the term has been much disputed. Cotgrave (1611) says: "It is the voice of the country folks begging small presents or New Year's gifts. .. an ancient term of rejoicing derived from the Druids, who were wont the first of each January to go into the woods, where, having sacrificed and banquetted together, they gathered mistletoe, esteeming it excellent to make beasts fruitful and most soverayne against all poyson." And he connects the word, through such Norman French forms as hoguinane, with the old French aguilanneuf, which he explains as au gui-l'an-neuf, " to the mistletoe! the New Year!" - this being (on his interpretation) the Druidical salutation to the coming year as the revellers issued from the woods armed with boughs of mistletoe. But though this explanation may be accepted as containing the truth in referring the word to a French original, Cotgrave's detailed etymology is now repudiated by scientific philologists, and the identical French aguilanneuf remains, like it, in obscurity.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From Scots

Proper noun




  1. (Scottish) New Year's Eve.
  2. (Scottish) A celebration or gift for New Year's Eve.



Scots Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia sco

Proper noun




  1. New Year's Eve.
  2. A celebration or gift for New Year's Eve.

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