Oh Scotland, Scotland! The home of haggis, Nessie and the world’s tallest hedge; this little country in the North of the UK is renowned for its fantastic cultural traditions you won’t find anywhere else. Yet few are aware just how big the Hogmanay celebrations can be - Edinburgh hosts one of the largest New Year celebrations in the world.
It’s a must-go destination for anyone who loves a good party and possibly the top place to be in the United Kingdom when the clocks strike midnight on the 31st of December. It is believed that the Vikings would celebrate the shortest day of the year and this celebration was passed onto the Scots as Hogmanay. As Christmas was prohibited during the 17th century and only a few very small quiet gatherings would take place on Christmas day, Hogmanay was a chance to meet up, dance, dine and drink together and generally have a big party.
See how the Scots do it, and you’ll soon learn how to have an unforgettable Hogmanay:
Prepare for 2019 by redding the house
Instead of a spring clean, in Scotland it’s a much smarter idea to have a Hogmanay clean – after all, it is seen as bad luck to start the New Year with a dirty house. They also attempt to clear their debts before the new year begins so grab the broom and get prepping for 2019. OK, admittedly it is possibly the least fun tradition of all time, so let’s move on quickly to the festive food…
Cook up a delicious haggis
Haggis, neeps and tatties make up the Hogmanay meal of many a Scotsman, so get involved in this tasty tradition by cooking up your own. This ancient delicacy was invented by hunters who would cook the offal of their prey first (because it would go off first) and use the stomach to cook it up in.
Today, sheep are the most common but any animal can be used, and the stomach is usually replaced with a synthetic casing which makes no difference to the taste. Oatmeal, onions and seasoning are added to the haggis before accompanying it with delicious neeps (mashed turnip) and tatties (mashed potato) so you can have an entirely Scottish dinner before heading out for further Hogmanay festivities. Haggis is usually sold pre-cooked so if you don’t fancy putting the dish together yourself, you can simply heat up a prepared haggis so it’s piping hot.
Dance at a Scottish cèilidh (pronounced kay’lee)
On long, dark winter nights it is still the custom in small villages for friends to collect in a house and hold what they call a ‘ceilidh’. Young and old are entertained by the reciters of old poems … some sing old and new songs set to old music or new music composed in the manner of the old. - Donald A. Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, p. 14 (1917)
Originally a cèilidh was a social gathering taking place in the cold winter months where families and friends get together to tell stories and play games. Over time, the dancing portion of the evening has gained popularity and become intertwined with the traditional Hogmanay party.
On the 31st December, cèilidhs take place throughout Scotland and they are an excellent way to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. Join in the fun at a cèilidh at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, The View in Oban, Archerfield Walled Garden in Dirleton, Sloans in Glasgow, or Cumbernauld New Town Hall in Lanarkshire. Cèilidhs are held all over the country, so find a fantastic venue and dance the night away in traditional Scots style.
One of the best-known events that takes place each Hogmanay in Scotland is the fireball swinging. Each year, about fifty to sixty people parade through this seaside village swinging fireballs over their heads, so stand back. It began back in the 19th century when an old fishing festival took place here and the fireballs themselves were taken from Christian religious imagery symbolising a cleansing of the old year – similar to the tradition of redding the house.
The fireballs themselves are encased in wire netting to ensure it is safe; they look fantastic lighting up the sky on a dark night, while the entire event is ended with fireworks to mark the beginning of the new year.
Sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ surrounded by Scots at midnight
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
- Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne (1788)
The phrase ‘auld lang syne’ translates as ‘old long ago’ making this traditional centuries-old song ever more nostalgic as it is all about sharing a drink with old friends and loves. It’s very fitting as New Year’s Eve is not only a time for reminiscing but also a time to look forward to the future - so grab your friends and family for Hogmanay in Scotland, and make a few new friends during the evening while looking forward to a fantastic 2019.
As you sing, the tradition is to hold hands with the person next to you so that everyone is standing in a circle, crossing your arms for the last verse and rushing into the middle of the circle at the end. Do this and you’ll look like a pro.
Take a look at the full lyrics so you can sing along at the top of your voice on the night.
Race home for first-footing
If you are out of the house for Hogmanay then as soon as midnight arrives, the tradition is a race to reach your friends and family. To bring good luck in the new year, the ‘first foot’ through the door on the morning of 1st January is traditionally a dark-haired well-wisher carrying coal, shortbread, a silver coin, and a wee dram of whisky. They represent respectively warmth, food, prosperity, and good cheer – with the whisky being used to toast the New Year.
The dark hair is thought to hark back to the time of Vikings who were commonly blond and considered to be up to no good, so you wouldn’t want them arriving on your doorstep. The dark-haired visitor gets a welcome glass of whisky in return.
Jump in the Firth of Forth to swim the Loony Dook
All over the UK people, very brave (or crazy) people use New Year’s Day to go for a swim in the icy waters that surround our little island and the Scots are no different. Taking place at South Queensferry, nearby Scotland’s famous Forth Bridges, the unfortunate souls take the plunge as a 'fun' way to get ready for the year ahead and raise money for charity.
There is even a fancy-dress competition if you would like to win extra money for your chosen charity, although plenty of attendees dive in while wearing swimming cozzies or, if it’s been a long night, the same clothes they started their Hogmanay celebration in the day before.
Every ticket bought for the Loony Dook goes to support the RNLI and pubs, cafés and restaurants open all along South Queensferry for this special day so anyone attending the event can get something to eat once they have completed their Hogmanay celebrations. If you manage to get this far then we think you will deserve a big breakfast and food is always an excellent way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
The place to be this New Year’s Eve
Scotland truly knows how to welcome the new year with fantastic events and traditions going on the length and breadth of the country that anyone can get involved in. Edinburgh is one of the top places for a little Scottish culture at this time of year, but anywhere you can find a cèilidh or can sing Auld Lang Syne at the top of your voice while holding hands with a stranger will allow you to have a great time as you dance into 2019.
After all that celebration, you will need somewhere cosy to crash, so take a look at our selection of cosy cottages and find a holiday home to suit you. Of course, the traditional haggis is not restricted to New Year’s Eve so if you would like a taste of the culture, head up to this incredible country for a feast any time of year and discover the unforgettable landscape only found in Scotland. Stay in a holiday cottage in beautiful Scotland.
Would to get involved in Scottish culture but already made plans for New Year’s Eve? No worries - take a look at our guide to events in Scotland and pick out another time to visit this remarkable region.
Did we miss something? Or do you have your own unique Hogmanay tradition you’d like to share? Let us know!