Pinks and blues explode over the crowds in Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street. Up north, the good folk of Aberdeenshire prepare to set alight handmade fire balls. Steak pies cook in Glasgow’s kitchens, and special cakes bake in the ovens of St. Andrews. Around the country, locals hold true to the same Scottish new year’s eve traditions that have been practiced since pre-Roman times.
The Scotts are a proud and passionate people, and this is their holiday: the original new year observance, hogmanay. Tracing back to pagan solstice festivals, hogmanay historically held more calendar importance than Christmas; and these days, the revelries are so grand, locals get both Jan. 1 and 2 off to recover. It’s no wonder Edinburgh set Guinness World Records with some of the largest parties on the globe.
Travelers who find themselves counting down in Perth, Dundee or Stirling will never forget this night. But wherever you welcome in the new year, remember the symbolism of the ocassion. As the Scots have long known, the truest blessings for the next twelve months are simply those faces and pleasures nearest to our heart.
Preparations: Prior to midnight on Hogmanay, the following steps should be taken to ensure a clean start for the new year:
- Pay back any personal debts.
- Return any borrowed items.
- Finish any out-standing projects.
- Clean the house, sweep the hearth.
- Several lines of Robert Burns – Though the national poet receives special attention on his January 25th birthday, his wisdom is remembered lyrically tonight as thousands around the world sing his brogue ode to “Once Upon A Time” – Auld Lang Syne.
- 1 bottle of whiskey – With over 100 distilleries in the country, you have your pick of peaty flavors and oaken smoothness. But don’t tip back the bottle quite yet: it represents the quenching of all thirst for the year ahead.
- 1 lump of coal – Unlike its use in Christmas traditions, this bit of rock now has a positive meaning: it represents a warm home for the future.
- 1 piece of shortbread – Made of melt-in-your mouth goodness when dipped into tea, this classic Scottish “biscuit” is more than just desert: it represents your full stomach for another year.
- Someone tall, dark and handsome – If luck is vain, then you’ll want to humor it any way possible. So choose the party’s best-looking person and invite them to perform the hogmanay first footing.
Method: At a quarter to midnight, when the significance of the impending clock chimes sinks in, hand the whisky, coal and shortbread to the party’s chosen someone. Dressed in tartan and sporran – though clean jeans substitute just as well – they must circle the house carrying these items.
The big and little hand join at 12:00 as the doorbell rings. Outside, the new year awaits. Its hands may be frozen, it’s toes a bit wet, but here it is. Welcome it in! Throw the coal on the fire, break the shortbread and share the alcohol – once individuals, now one community as an unbidden voice begins that timeless lament . . .
“May auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for the days of auld lang syne . . .”