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Ringing in the New Year in Scotland

  • Edinburgh (by )
  • Scotland (by )
  • Edinburgh (by )
  • The Poems of Robert Burns (by )
  • Auld Lang Syne (by )
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At this time of year all around the globe, people are planning festive New Year’s Eve celebrations. In New York City, revelers get ready to witness the spectacular ball dropping in the bustling Times Square. In Sydney, Australia, party-goers gear up to gather around the harbor to watch colorful bursts of fireworks illuminate the nighttime sky. In Scotland, revelers prepare for Hogmanay—a celebration of the winter solstice that traces its history back to the time of the Vikings.

In Peeps At Many Lands, Scotland, Elizabeth Wilson Grierson writes, “The great national holiday of Scotland is the ‘New Year.’ This does not mean New Year’s Day only; it means the last day of the Old Year as well” (p. 32). The festivities often last three days. 

Furthermore, Grierson writes about the word "Hogmanay": “No one knows exactly what the old word means, but if, as some people think, it comes from a French phrase, ‘Au gui l’an neuf’ (To the mistletoe this New year), which was used in Normandy long ago when people went out to cut mistletoe for decorations, we can trace in it the old connexion between France and Scotland” (p. 33). 

In Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson writes, “New-year’s Day, the great national festival, is a time of family expansions and of deep carousal” (p.134).

Revelers are eager to visit friends and neighbors as soon as the new year rings in. “First-footing” is one of the most popular traditions. This refers to the first guest who steps foot over the threshold of a home in the new year. The Scottish believe that it’s unlucky for the “first foot” to come empty-handed, so party-goers bring bread, salt, or whisky to family, friends, and neighbors. 
The Scottish practice a host of other significant traditions and customs at this time of year. Since fires intend to ward off evil spirits, fire festivals are held in Aberdeenshire. People also engage in home cleansing rituals, which include removing ashes from fires that are already extinguished. This signifies the “out with the old and in with the new.” Revelers also unite to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” which was written by Robert Burns, who is regarded as the national poet of Scotland. 

In Poems of Robert Burns, Burns writes, 

“A Guid New-year I wish thee, Maggie!
Hae, there’s a ripp to thy auld baggie:
Tho’ thou’s howe-backit now, an knaggie,
I’ve seen the day
Thou could hae gaen like ony staggie, 
Out-owre the lay. 
On giving her the accustomed rip of corn to Hansel in the New-Year. 

In Edinburgh, Rosaline Masson writes, “But winter—winter in Edinburgh! The very words bring up a hundred pictures, a hundred memories” (p. 79).

By Regina Molaro

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