8 Amazing Scottish New Year’s Traditions

13th December

The Scots certainly know how to have a good time, especially at New Year. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is one of the most renowned annual celebrations, attracting visitors from all over the world. Here are 8 amazing New Year’s or as the Scots say, Hogmanay traditions.


1.    Partying in the streets – Edinburgh’s famous Street Party sees revellers take to the streets for an epic 6-hour Street Party for 60,000 people.  In 2018 an extended fireworks display from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle will see in the New Year when the clock strikes midnight. The evening will be packed full of activity with bands, DJs, street performers, dancers, acrobats and fire eaters taking to the streets. Famous faces like the Human League and fun lovin’ Huey Morgan headline sets on the music stages, and the whole affair will be hosted by Sanjeev Kohli, best known for his role as shopkeeper Navid in the BBC comedy, “Still Game”.


2.    Dancing the night away - It’s hard to move for ceilidhs across Scotland on 31.12.17. Traditionally, ceilidhs start three to four hours before the bells at midnight, with New Year festivities continuing through to the next morning. This year, for the first time ever, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay will include a Ceilidh under Edinburgh Castle.


3.    Swimming the Loony Dook - quite possibly the looniest Scottish New Year tradition. This bizarre celebration takes place on the first day of the New Year. Up to a thousand people in fancy dress throw themselves into the icy water of the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry, just a few miles out of the Scottish capital. Urged on by a skirl of bagpipes, most people go in for a quick dip and retreat quickly whilst some brave souls stay in for as long as half an hour. The Loony Dook started out in 1987 as a somewhat extreme attempt by a group of locals to find a hangover cure. It now draws participants from all over the world!


4.    Fireball swinging in Stonehaven - has us a bit hot under the collar! 50 to 60 big, burly men parade through the streets of this ancient fishing village swinging balls of fire above their heads at the strike of midnight. Don’t be alarmed. It’s safe. The fireballs are packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The ceremony dates from a fisherman’s festival in the 19th century but these torch processions go way back to before Christianity. Some say the fireballs signify the sun, or a shooting star or that they purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.


5.    First footing - the 'first foot' in the house after midnight is still very common in Scotland. To ensure good luck, a first footer should be a dark-haired man. Fair-haired first footers were not particularly welcome after the Viking invasions of ancient times. Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host's fire, along with shortbread, a black bun and whisky to toast to a Happy New Year. These days shortbread and whisky will suffice.  Showing up empty handed is not only very rude but also bad luck!


6.     Redding the house – rather than a Spring clean, the Scots have a New Year’s clean to welcome in the New Year. Starting the New Year with a dirty house is bad luck. When open fires were common, people would clear the ashes and lay a new fire for the New Year. Cleaning one’s house also extends to clearing one’s debts. And that’s all we’re going to say about overspending at Christmas!


7.     Singing Auld Lang Syne - people cross hands and sing, or slur, Auld Lang Syne at New Years, but how many actually know the words? Also, how many people know that you are only meant to cross arms on the last verse? A little known fact is that Scottish bard, Robert Burns wrote the song but he did not write the melody. He wrote the song with a different melody in mind. The one that became famous was first attached to the song in the late 1790s and Burns, who died in 1796, knew nothing about it. It is sung at midnight to bid farewell to the old year in Scotland and all over the world.


8.    Carrying torches in Edinburgh – Inspired by Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Viking torch processions, Edinburgh has its own Torchlight Procession.  Thousands of people take to the streets with flaming torches, carrying them through the heart of the historic old town of Edinburgh, along one of its oldest streets, the Royal Mile.  Past the palace of Holyrood (Queen Elizabeth’s Scottish residence) culminating in Holyrood Park.  This year, the procession will end with a spectacular visual moment, with thousands of torches forming a #ScotWord chosen by young Scottish people to represent what makes them proud to live in Scotland!

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