Happy Hogmanay: About the Scottish New Year celebration

Outlander Season 2 -- Courtesy of STARZ
Outlander Season 2 -- Courtesy of STARZ /

Hogmanay is a huge deal in Scotland—the New Year’s celebration is even bigger than Christmas

Happy Hogmanay, Outlander fans!  Hogmanay is the Scots word for New Year’s.  The word’s been around since at least 1604, but scholars aren’t quite sure where it comes from.  The traditional celebration is much older though.

You may be wondering how Hogmanay became so important to the Scots.  According to TripSavvy, Christmas was banned in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries and discouraged for quite a while after that.  Christmas didn’t even become a National Holiday until 1958 so Hogmanay provided the perfect opportunity for end-of-the-year festivities.

Hogmanay observances range from huge public festivals in major Scottish cities to more traditional at-home celebrations.  We got to see a Hogmanay celebration in Outlander Season 3, Episode 8, a great party at Lallybroch with feasting and dancing.

Diana Gabaldon showed us Hogmanay celebrations in both Voyager and The Fiery Cross

If you’ll remember, in both Season 3 and Voyager, it was at Hogmanay that Jamie Fraser met Laoghaire again.  He recalled the celebration to Claire:

"The house was bright that night, with candles lit in the windows, and bunches of holly and ivy fixed to the staircase and the doorposts.  There were not so many pipers in the Highlands as there had been before Culloden, but one had been found, and a fiddler as well, and music floated up the stairwell, mixed with the heady scent of rum punch, plum cake, almond squirts, and Savoy biscuits."

We got to see Hogmanay at the Ridge in The Fiery Cross.  Roger acted as the firstfoot, who visited the Big House and neighboring houses with the traditional gifts of salt, an egg, wood, and whisky.  He was chosen because a tall, dark-haired, handsome man being the first to visit your house is seen as lucky.  Redheads bring bad luck apparently so Jamie had to hide.

Ancient traditions still play a part in Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland today

TripSavvy noted that there are five old Hogmanay traditions.  The first is “redding the house,” where you clean your house, sweep your fireplace, and “[go] from room to room carrying a smoking juniper branch to discourage evil spirits and chase away disease.”

They also talked about the first footing tradition.  Neighbors visit each other after midnight bearing symbolic gifts and are given a dram of whisky.  Red-haired females are especially unlucky because in the old days it was assumed a Viking man would follow.

The other traditions are fire festivals, singing Auld Lang Syne, and “saining the house,” or “blessing the house and livestock with holy water from a local stream.”  This would be followed by a woman with a smoking juniper branch (again!), and everyone would be restored from the smoke with a few drams of whisky.

Edinburgh holds an enormous three-day Hogmanay celebration each year

Edinburgh is a well-known place to celebrate Hogmanay.  This year for the pandemic, they will be showing swarming drone shows narrated by famous Scots on edinburghshogmanay.com on Dec. 29–31.  Plans are already in place to resume the normal festivities in 2021 though.

On Dec. 30, 2021, there will be a torchlight procession down the Royal Mile according to VisitScotland.  This will be followed by a huge street party in Princes Street, midnight fireworks, and the biggest Auld Lang Syne singalong in the world on Dec. 31.  Then on Jan. 1, 2022, you can get rid of your whisky headache in the “Loony Dook,” a frigid dip in the River Forth.

Next. Vikings is worth the watch during Droughtlander. dark

How will you be celebrating Hogmanay?  Tell us in the comments below.

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