Hogmanay - Origins & Customs



You might have heard about Hogmanay, Scotland's New Years Eve celebrations. It is a huge part of modern Scotland's culture and is celebrated in style across the country, especially in Edinburgh, the countries Capital, with fireworks and partying.


Although now Hogmanay is seen as a Scottish tradition, Hogmanay being the Scots word for 'Last day of the old year', it actually has a history with Northern England too. In the North of England it was called 'Hagmena' in Northumberland, 'Hogmina' in Cumberland and 'Hagman-ha' in Yorkshire.

In Richmond (North Yorkshire) they would sing this chant as they went door to door asking for food or gifts:

Tonight it is the New Year’s Night,

tomorrow is the day,

And we are come for our right and for our ray,

As we used to do in old King Harry’s day.

Sing, fellows, sing Hagman heigh! ORIGINS Many believe that the origins of Hogmanay go far back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice, and was part of the Twelve Days of Yule (later to Twelve Days of Christmas) as well as incorporating Gaelic customs carried over from Samhain earlier in the Year as these communities lived side by side at one point and traditions and customs fused together over time. Though there is more than one theory and others think the word came into use via the French language as the word 'hoguinane' and variations of the word that could have derived from the Middle French word: aguillanneuf meaning gift given at new year.


CUSTOMS Some customs during Hogmanay are gift giving, feasting and the 'first-footing' which happens at exactly after Midnight. There are lots of different versions of 'First-footing' from the person to be a tall handsome man, to a friend or neighbour carrying a gift. This was said to bring luck for the rest of the year. In some instances, the custom of singing 'Auld Lang Syne' a poem by Scottish Poet Robert Burns has become popular. In Aberdeenshire, the custom of fireball swinging is common, which involves locals making balls of chicken wire, filled with newspaper, sticks, rags and as the bells sound to mark Midnight, the balls are set alight and the people march the streets swinging the fireballs. An old custom in the highlands is to celebrate Hogmanay by saining which is a Scots word for blessing or protecting and is a form of smoke cleansing. Though the tradition of gift giving has died out in England, the partying is still a thing. Maybe we should start calling New Years Eve Hagmena/Hogmina again.. What do you think?


Happy New Year everyone.



(For more on Hagmena/Hogmina, Ronald Hutton - Stations Of The Sun book, talks in more detail.) Image by Robbie Shade - Fireworks over Edinburgh found on Wikipedia.

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