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Hogmanay - What Happens In Scotland At New Years Eve

Updated on July 12, 2011

New Years Eve is known in Scotland as Hogmanay.  Meet a Scotsman near the end of the year and we may well ask you “What are you doing for the Bells”.

The Scottish people have a long history of ringing in the New Year in an exuberant fashion. We begin celebrating on New Years Eve, building up to midnight, “the Bells” and then on long after.

Why Do Scots Celebrate New Year With Such Passion?

Until the 1950s, Christmas was banned in Scotland. This ban had existed for nearly 400 years, during the protestant reformation of Scotland where Christmas was seen as a papist festival, and subsequently outlawed.

Many Scots worked over Christmas, as it was not a celebrated holiday, and they would not be able to celebrate the winter solstice until the New Years Eve.  Hogmanay was a time for families to come together and exchange best wishes and gifts, which kids enjoyed very much.

Hogmanay was THE winter celebration for Scots, before the re-emergence of Christmas as a celebrated Holiday. It is only in recent generations that Christmas has become such a popular and richly celebrated occasion.

The New Year also brought in a “cleaning of the slate”. When coal fires were common, the ash would be cleared out on the 31st and the house would have a major clean in preparation for the year to come.  Some people even now believe the superstition that you must clear your debts off by New Year’s Day.

What Happens At the Bells?

Parties start in the early evening with midnight being greatly anticipated, the night builds up to a few moments before, where traditionally a single piper will play, the Bells of Big Ben are heard announcing that the New Year has arrived.

There is a great roar from the crowd, people shake hands and kiss. This is primarily with friends and family but soon extends to other people in the party. We then sing Auld Lang Syne, you all know how that song goes.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!


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

And surely you'll be your pint stoup,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!


We twa hae ran about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun til dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.


And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right gude willie waught
For auld lang syne!


A large, significant part of Hogmanay celebration is the welcoming of strangers and forming of new friendships. Many people will now make resolutions for the New Year, something I’m sure many people make, and in some cases give up shortly after.  This welcoming of strangers has led to the practice of first footing.

First Footing

Traditionally speaking, it will be a fruitful and prosperous year if a tall dark stranger is the first person to put his foot in your door in the New Year.  The lucky dark stranger was directly opposed to the much feared blond haired Viking whom had brought much terror to the households in the early centuries.

The First Footer would traditionally bring a lump of coal for the fire, a cake or some coins and would receive a warm meal and a “wee dram” of whisky.

Now we would normally go around in groups visiting the houses of friends or neighbours. I remember as a child going up and down the street “ first footing” the neighbours and being pushed out of my own house with a bottle of beer, only to knock the door and shout “FIRST FOOTER”.

Major Hogmanay Celebrations

The major Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland are held in streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Many people brave the bitter cold on New Year’s Eve to see out the Bells in style.

Edinburgh Street Party

I believe this is Edinburgh’s must well known event. The street party sees crowds of up to 100,000 people party on Princes Street. There are 4 music stages and a spectacular fireworks display above Edinburgh castle at the bells.

This year the number of revellers may be reduced due to the ongoing tram works on Princes Street.

For more information check out the Edinburgh street party website.

Glasgow Street Party

People gather in George square for a fantastic night of music leading up to the bells. The Glasgow street party is the culmination of a month long “Winterfest”, which has a vast array of entertainment throughout.

For more information check out the Winterfest website.

All That's Left To Say Is... Happy New Year

Wherever you find yourself at the bells, I hope it is the company of loved ones and you celebrate the year past and toast to a wonderful new year.


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    • profile image

      PJ 4 years ago

      One correction we don't watch for the Bells of Big Ben we watch the firing of the gun at Edinburgh Castle

    • SherryDigital profile image

      Sherry Duffy 6 years ago from Here. There. Everywhere. Currently: Portland, OR

      Great information! I loved this hub!

    • profile image

      Gordon 7 years ago

      LANG SYNE - Means - Longtime past!

      PS - I am a Scot.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 7 years ago

      Very informative hub. Had no idea Christmas wasn't celebrated in Scotland until the 1950s! What exactly does "auld lang syne" mean? From the context, seems like "auld" means "old." Can't even guess what "lang syne" means.

    • hublim profile image

      hublim 8 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Princessa, thanks for the great Hubmob topic

      I love Hogmanay too; I look forward to it more than I do Christmas. It’s when the real parties happen.

      I’ve always had Christmas in my life, my parents too and couldn’t imagine not celebrating Christmas.

      I hope you’ll still have time for a Wee Dram at the bells.

      Happy New Year to you Princessa!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      I love the passion the Scots put on celebrating Hogmanay.

      I lived in Scotland for 5 years and I didn't know that until the 1950s, Christmas was banned in there. That explains a lot... I wish someone had explained that to me when I was there.