A Right Fine Hogmanay

A Right Fine Hogmanay: Memories shared between 2 sisters.

Christmas is done and dusted and the New Year is only days away.

The world is revving up for the New Year celebrations. New Years Eve or Hogmanay in Scotland, is a much bigger celebration than here in Canada and even a bigger celebration than Christmas itself. I’d go as far as to say probably the biggest annual celebration in Scotland all together. In fact Christmas was banned in Scotland for many years so naturally Hogmanay would become the biggest national party of the year.

Hogmanay in Edinburgh is celebrated with a throng of folks ascending on the capital city. One of the bigger New Year parties in the entire world. You could say it is merriment to the extreme…that is not a bad thing I’d say. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a ceilidh under the stars and lights shining down from that magnificent castle? People come from far and near for this party.

My wee hometown comes to life on New Years Day. A new tradition started within the last 15 years I’d guess, in the form of a street party or more correctly a street ceilidh. Locals along with families who have come hame for the holidays, mixed with visitors from oversees, celebrate with a good old Scottish knees up. The main street is closed down for the party. There is bagpipes playing, kilts swirling to Scottish Country dance tunes, food to fill yer belly, drinks to make you merry, and a lot of good cheer. I have yet to take a trip home during the holiday season...one of these years!

Interestingly, January 2 is a bank holiday in Scotland. I’m thinking that was added due to many a’ man missing work, so they decided to extend the holidays. An extra day off gives them time to get o’er the big hangover. Talking of hangovers, Scots swear by Irn Bru, their non-alcoholic national drink, to be the best cure. I can’t confirm or deny this. ;)

It is true what they say about Canadians being a friendly bunch as our first months in Canada we were treated royally. I remember our first New Years in Canada we were invited over to a friend’s house; we were playing board games and cards, kids were amusing themselves, really not the way I’d expect to be celebrating Hogmanay. Anyways, I’m checking my watch as it is nearing midnight and no one is making any movement or acknowledgment that the New Year is just minutes away. I’m not going to lie, I was getting a tad anxious. There’s more of my mother in me than I realize. The hand on my watch hits midnight and not a mention from anyone. I’m devastated by the lack of acknowledgement. I can’t let it go by without wishing everyone a happy new year. Oh yes, happy new year. No hugs, no merriment. I was traumatized by the whole event lol The following year we were in Airdrie and celebrated it a little differently.

With Hogmanay and New Year looming, it has my sister Shoina and I reminiscing of the years gone by and the traditions and memories of growing up in a typical Scottish Village back in the ‘60’s. We were two of seven children living with our Mum and Dad, so the household was never quiet. We remember after the excitement of Christmas, there was the build-up for Hogmanay. Without sounding old, these were the good old days. Sadly, many of the traditions have died along with most of the generation before us.

On Hogmanay we always had a big clean and tidy up of the house, awaiting the first footers. First footers are the unexpected guests who would appear at your door after midnight (first o’er the door) to wish you a happy new year and also seen as the bringer of good fortune for the coming year. Of course our mum would say you have to start the New Year as you mean to go on, a clean house means your house will be clean all year! We never quite worked that one out, especially with 7 kids in the house.

Dad would set up the table in the sitting room with all the alcohol and glasses. The furniture was moved around so that there was dancing space and all the chairs brought down from other rooms for guests and of course the record player would be there for the entertainment. Mum would make a wee spread for folk coming, with a variety of food, including Black Bun... not something either one of us like but many people do. Black Bun is a rich fruitcake covered in pastry and a traditional delicacy you would find in many a neighbour’s house at Hogmanay. At my in-laws home it would be Clootie Dumpling and Stovies with Oat Cakes that would be served up.

The kids in the house got to stay up on Hogmanay and we would all be sitting waiting for the bells with a drink in hand (usually cordial or fizzy lemonade) ready to raise a toast to the New Year with the adults. The television would be on for the lead up to the bells so we caught the time just right and then Big Ben would start the countdown to midnight. Coming from a family a little reserved with their show of PDA public display of affection this was always a fun element of the celebration. We would all run about wishing each other a Happy New Year with a hug and a kiss.

Once that was over, all us kids would sit and wait with anticipation for the knock on the door. When the first knock came, we would all jump with excitement wondering who was going to be our first footer. Everyone knew each other back then and there was a strong community spirit.

Knock on the door and in comes the first footer wishing us all a happy new year, with a bottle in one hand and a lump of coal in the other. “lang mae yer lum reek” was a common saying, meaning “I hope the year is good for you and you have coal to burn on your fire”. The superstition of a first footer was that they would bring you a year of good luck; however that first footer walking through the door after the bells chimed had to be a tall, dark and handsome man. My mum was superstitious about this tradition and we needed all the luck we could get for the coming year. One year things were quiet and no sign of any neighbours chapping at the door, so my mother had one of my older brothers who was tall with dark hair go out the back door and come in the front door with a piece of coal in hand. Another year my sister, who is a red head, and her friend were first through the door. My mother nearly had a pleurae when she saw my sister walk in. Not only are red headed first footers bad luck but a female red head? That is supposed to bring you the worst luck of all. Oh gee, my sister and more so her friend I’m sure got the fright of their life by my mum’s reaction.

No-one would go first footing without bringing a bottle with them and they would make sure the host took a wee dram from it. Not forgetting to toast the host, which would be Slangevar or "Slainte Mhath" in Gaelic (meaning good health “a’ the best”), it would be seen as rude not to. People would wander from house to house to wish all their neighbours a happy new year, sharing a dram from their bottle with the host at each house. The party would go on for a good while. Once the younger kids were put to bed, the older ones were allowed to go out with their pals for a while. The celebrations continued into the early hours and well into the the next day too.

All these great memories of a “Right Fine Hogmanay” make us both smile of times when life was simple and happy. Our home was full of great energy and a hive of activity with folks at New Year, dancing, chatting and lots of laughter. As we grew up, had our own families, we continued the traditions, going through the same process each year. Now that we are much older and miles apart, sadly the years have seen many of these old traditions lost.

It would be amiss to not mention the most famous song sung at this time of year from the Scottish Bard himself, Robert Burns. No New Year is complete without these very words. Brings a tear to the eye everytime.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to min’?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And 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.

Hogmanay is a time to celebrate with family, friends and neighbours. A time to reflect on the good and the bad of the old year and to remember those we have lost, but more so looking forward with hope for a better year ahead for all.

A guid New Year to ane an' a'!