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What the hey is hogmanay?

Updated on January 13, 2013

Welcome to What the Hey is Hogmanay?

This light-hearted lens is devoted to all things Scottish, in particular a superb celebration known as "Hogmanay"!

'Tis best to take what is written below with a heaping pinch of salt in your porridge or else a large dram of Scotch whisky which are necessary to maintain a healthy sense of humor in this day and age.

It also helps if you have an appreciation for weird and wonderous things like haggis, tripe, and bagpipes not to mention dragons, kilts, and Loch Ness monsters!

The Celebration of Hogmanay

"I am now come to your country,

Renewing my duty of Hogmany;

Of its mysteries, what need I tell?

It began in the time of our ancestors."


Source: Traditional Scots Gaelic song of Hogmanay, translated by Caitlin Matthews from her book, "The Celtic Spirit - Daily Meditations for the Turning Year"

So What The Hey is Hogmanay?

It's time to welcome the new year over your threshold and see the old year out with some fancy footwork, fermented flavors, and fabulous good cheer!

Another hint - what the heck is Hogmanay? - How come they're all kicking up their heels and their kilts?


Image Credit: scottish dancer - - 2009/11

Hogmanay (pronounced "hog/me/nay") is the Scottish word for the last day of the year (synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Gregorian calendar). Actually, the word comes from the Scottish Gaelic "Ãg-Mhadainn/h-òg-mhaidne" meaning 'new morning'.

It is often said that the roots of Hogmanay perhaps have a good deal in common with the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of "Samhain". Of course oodles of folks lay claim to organizing all manner of parties during the long winter months. In Rome, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of "Saturnalia", a fantastic winter festival, where folks were known to have more than a jolly good time. And speaking of winter parties, the Vikings (who had a bad habit of dropping in on the Scots unexpectedly), used to celebrate "Yule", which later contributed to the "Twelve Days of Christmas", or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. These pagan parties and wicked winter festivals went underground during the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.

Scottish attire for Hogmanay - This Highland holiday outfit equips the wearer to blow the blinking bagpipes and belt out a blissful ballad or two from Brigadoon


Image Credit: - Highland outfit

The Colorful and Curious Customs of Hogmanay!


Image Creative: - 2009/12

Well, just like the sign says -- if you don't know anything about those superb Scots -- just remember tartans, kilts, and pipes (bagpipes). Frankly, every Scottish gathering has these cultural curiosities -- along with some superb spirits!

There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. Often the celebration of the New Year begins with the practice of 'first-footing' (which starts immediately after midnight).The "first-foot" in the door is supposed to bring good luck for the remainder of the year. Traditionally, tall dark and handsome men are preferred as the "first-foot" -- this is a party after all!

As fate would have it, this curious custom involves being the first person to cross the doorstep of a friend or neighbour and bearing symbolic gifts of luck to the householder of salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake). And, as every gift begets a gift, guests enjoy the hospitality of good food and something to wet the whistle. This celebration may continue well into the next day (although some people like it so much they carry on until well into January).

An old custom in the Highlands of Scotland, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (a Gaelic term meaning 'protecting, blessing') of the household and livestock. This is custom is carried out early New Year's day by which involves burning juniper branches to create smoke, and by sprinkling 'magic water' from 'a dead and living ford' (a river that is crossed by both those living and by their ancestors). Both rituals are performed inside sealed houses and livestock enclosures.Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers 'a restorative' from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to their New Year breakfast.

Of coarse, those who don't share an affinity for smoke and magic water, may choose to head into the towns and cities where Hogmanay is also celebrated with bonfires or fireworks, not to many bagpipes and street drumming which set the scene for dancing, singing, and storytelling. And what would a fun feast be without the opportunity to consume steak pies and stews, not to mention enjoy copious quantities of pirits to slake one's thirst is also part of this fun feast!

And, what would Hogmanay be without colorful characters and peaty personalities? - Are you ready to ring in the New Year?

The custom of "first-footing" -- the receiving in a celebratory fashion the first guest across the threshold of one's home after the stroke of midnight on December 31st.

The first-footer should be a dark-haired person from outside the household who is able to bring good fortune (note: healthy, youthful, and vigorous people are particularly welcome).

The first-footer brings a "handsel" (or token of good fortune) to the household -- usually fuel, food, or more often than not a fine bottle of whisky!


Image Credit: Balvenie-Guy whisky label -

What would Hogmany and a Happy New Year be without... - The singing of Auld Lang Syne!

The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become now become a popular ritual in many lands. "Auld Lang Syne" is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is usually sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day.

Is that a humdinger of a Hogmanay headache? - No silly -- it's just the Loch Ness Monster!

If the celebrations of the evening become a little riotous or rowdy, you may meet a few crazy critters like the Loch Ness Monster. However, it is worth remembering that the gap between one year and the next is best leaped over rather than crawled over.


Image Credit: Loch Ness Monster -

DON'T HOG HOGMANAY -- SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE! - Okay, so tell me again who yer callin' a titillating tartan tribalist?


Image Credit: - 6165556GMO

When Scots are'nt celebrating Hogmanay, what are they doing?

See results

How well do you know the Scots?


Image Credit: - thistle flask

What do Scots do with thistles?

See results

What do Scots usually eat for lunch?


Image Credit:

Tickle Me Pink Performs Her Magical Moves - And Gives New Meaning to Have A Happy Hogmanay!


Image Credit:

Haggis, Hogmanay and Halloween
Haggis, Hogmanay and Halloween

Those Scots have contributed some crazy curiosities to the world including Haggis (a heavenly meal), Hogmany (a superb party), and Halloween (a great way to scare the devil away)!

Hogmanay From Blair Castle
Hogmanay From Blair Castle

When you need to get in the spirit of a true Scottish New Year -- tune into the pipes and sounds of something special from Blair Castle (Edinburgh, Scotland)

The Hogmanay Companion
The Hogmanay Companion

All you ever needed to know about "Hogmanay" -- from what to wear, what to eat, as well your choice of music and dance!

The Celebration of Hogmanay
The Celebration of Hogmanay

A novel way to spend Hogmanay!


What's Hogmanay Without a Heck of a Lot of Hugs All Round? - Please feel free to leave your greetings for the New Year, along with any recollections you have of

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