Best New Year’s Day traditions to celebrate the start of the New Year

11th August

For most people New Year’s day is just the 24 hours you need to recover from the night before, but in Scotland it comes with a heap of traditions and superstitions that make it one of the most special days of the year – so much so it’s even a national holiday in the UK.

Representing new beginnings and a fresh start, it is a day worthy of being acknowledged and celebrated.

There’s so many ways to kick off 2019 at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, starting with a wee dance at First Footers Family Ceilidh, the first ceilidh of 2019, at 12.30pm in McEwan Hall.

If your Hogmanay hangover has cleared, then an afternoon of live music starts at 4.30pm with Capercaillie and guests bringing a traditional Scottish knees-up to McEwan Hall, while international Galician folk star Carlos Nunez brings the festivities to a close with a New Year’s Day concert at 8pm.

Wherever you are on 1st January, here’s our round-up of some of our favourite New Year’s Day traditions.


1. First Footing

In Scotland, the custom of ‘first-footing’ is an important part of the celebration of Hogmanay. To ensure good luck for your house, the first foot through the door after midnight should be a tall, dark-haired male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky. Other ‘first-footers’ deemed as especially fortunate are new brides, new mothers, and anyone born on 1st January.


2. Cold water plunges

Taking a dip in freezing cold water on New Year’s Day is a big deal in lots of places all over the world. Hordes of brave or perhaps foolhardy people across the world will don fancy dress or just their swimming togs, and throw themselves into the sea, a river or a lake – any water will do. It just has to be cold! It is thought the ‘plunge’ into cold water symbolises that New Year’s Day is a festival of rebirth.

In Edinburgh, The Loony Dook sees dippers braving the chill in the shadow of the Forth Bridge at South Queensferry to raise money for charities. This year’s Loony Dook commences at 12.30pm.


3. Feasting on lucky food

It is believed that eating circular shaped food on New Year’s Day is lucky. Eating any ring-shaped treat, such as a doughnut or cake, or even Haggis, symbolizes ‘coming full circle’ and leads to good fortune.

Eating any type of ‘greens’, such as spinach, kale, green beans, is also said to be lucky because they resemble money, as do beans such as black-eyed peas or lentils, as people say they represent coins. Similarly, if you eat fish you’re bound to receive good fortune, as their scales look like coins.

If you want to bring even more abundance into your life, then feast on grains like rice, quinoa, and barley which represent a life of plenty, while the long strands of noodles are meant to be symbols of long life. Even the humble pig will bring good luck, as apparently it ‘roots forward, and is rotund.’


4. Fireball swinging

At the stroke of midnight in Scottish coastal town Stonehaven, a cast of 45 strong Scots, most in kilts, march down the street swinging balls of fire above their heads. Traditionally, it was a cleansing ritual to burn off any bad spirits left from the old year so that the New Year can begin clean and purified. The procession ends with the men throwing the fireballs into the sea!


5. Resolutions time

1 January marks the day that people traditionally make New Year’s resolutions (although you can make them during any of the first few weeks of January). The New Year represents new beginnings and the chance for a clean slate, so many people like to pledge to give something up or try something new. If you want some inspiration, see our article on the wackier New Year’s Resolutions that people make.


6. Grab a grape

This is a fun and fascinating Spanish tradition where you eat one grape with each of the 12 chimes of the clock to secure 12 months of happiness. This tradition is a century old and dates back to 1909 when there was a grape harvest so big that the King decided to give the surplus to the people to consume on New Year’s Eve.


7. Go dotty!

In the Philippines, it is believed that wearing polka dots on New Year’s Day is a sign of good fortune and will bring prosperity for the New Year. 


8. Lead pouring

This ancient New Year tradition in Germany involves melting a small bit of lead or tin, and then dropping it in water. The shape created by the metal is believed to foretell the future. For instance, if the lead forms a ball, it means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor means help is coming when you need it, but a cross can mean death. Today people use wax instead of lead  and make-your-own kits are sold to make it easier for people to predict the shapes.

It’s clear that New Year’s Day has a lot of time-honoured traditions, focused on welcoming in the New Year and attracting prosperity and good fortune into our lives.

So now you know that if you eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes 12, whilst wearing polka dots, throw a fireball into the sea before you head on in after it, dry off and eat a doughnut, followed by some kale and then you open the door to a tall, dark haired stranger carrying shortbread, you’ll have a great year! Easy.

Here’s to a prosperous 2019! Slainte!

Latest Social