Scotland is one of the only countries in the world where New Year celebrations could be considered more important than those at Christmas. Unlike anywhere else in the world, the Scots call New Year, Hogmanay, a celebration that starts on the 31st of December and carries right through to early January. Hogmanay in Scotland is steeped in tradition, some traditions dating back hundreds of years and some more unusual than others. Here are just some of these uniquely Scottish traditions...

1. First Footing

After the stroke of midnight, neighbours visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or a fruit cake. In turn, the visitor is offered a glass of whisky. The idea behind this tradition is that the first person to enter a house in the New Year, could bring luck for the upcoming year. The luckiest type of person is said to be a tall, dark and handsome man and the unluckiest, a red headed woman.

2. The Singing of Auld Lang Syne

This may be a tradition carried out all over the world but it definitely originated from Scotland; the singing of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne. No one quite knows how the song became associated with New Year, but the tradition has most certainly caught on. At Edinburgh's Hogmanay Celebrations, people join hands for what is reputed to be the world's biggest Auld Lang Syne.

"For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne. We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne."

3. Bonfires and Fire Festivals

Beginning at Hogmanay and carrying right through to January, fire festivals take place all around Scotland and are said to have pagan or Viking origins. The flames represent purifying and driving away evil spirts. The celebrations in Biggarm, Comrie and Stonehaven all centre around fire and is also often used in Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations.

4. The Saining of the House

This very old tradition originated in rural areas of Scotland and involves blessing the house and livestock with water from a local stream on Hogmanay. This tradition almost died out entirely but it has been revived in recent years. The next part of the ritual could involve the woman of the house going from room to room with a smouldering juniper branch, filling the house with purifying smoke (not something we recommend). Once the house was sufficiently smoky, the windows are thrown open and a dram of whiskey is given to all.

5. The Loony Dook

A slightly newer tradition that has been taking place for the last 30 years on the 1st of January is the Loony Dook. Thousands of 'Dookers' head to South Queensferry and have a dip in the freezing cold River Forth with views of the world-famous Forth Bridges. For those brave enough to face the challenge fancy dress is all part of the fun!

Image credit: Chris Watt 

Biography for SYHA Hostelling Scotland

Scotland's best known network of youth hostels in stunning city & rural locations. Go on a #SYHAdventure! As a not-for-profit organisation, we encourage guests to join SYHA Hostelling Scotland. Members enjoy a range of exclusive benefits including dual membership of Hostelling International, providing access to more than 4,000 youth hostels in over 90 countries worldwide. Membership and guest overnight income supports our charitable youth programmes and the maintenance of the hostelling network, particularly in rural Scotland.

Leave a Comment