For most of the world December 31 is New Year’s Eve, but in Scotland it’s something much more important: Hogmanay. So what is it? Hogmanay is a very big deal in Scotland. It’s the biggest day in the festive calendar, a celebration that makes Christmas Day seem very small indeed. It’s what the Scots call their New Year’s Eve celebrations—but these celebrations date back centuries, indeed, Hogmanay’s origins are viking. Norse invaders celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, with wild parties in late December. Those parties began to incorporate elements from the Gaelic Samhain winter festival, which celebrates the beginning of winter, and Yule, whose celebrations were known as ‘daft days’ in Scotland. Like many annual celebrations, the end result is a mix of its various influences.
Why is it such a big deal? Because until very recently, Scots didn’t do Christmas. The party-loving Protestant Reformation effectively banned Christmas for 400 years, and Christmas Day didn’t even become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day didn’t become a holiday until 1974. So while the rest of the world celebrated Christmas, the Scots toiled. Their family get-togethers happened at Hogmanay instead.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the biggie: it starts with a massive torchlit parade on December 30, includes a huge fireworks display, has musical performances, and pulls a crowd from more than 60 different countries. Other Scottish cities have big parties too, but Edinburgh’s one is the biggest.
How can one celebrate Hogmanay properly? There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Hogmanay, but if you want to do what many Scots do you’ll have a nice meal with family and/or friends with plenty to drink–including whisky, of course–to toast the new year.
So, I wish you Happy Hogmanay and Happy New Year! Sláinte!