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Scottish New Year greeting

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Customs and traditions of New Year and Hogmanay in Scotland such as first footing, the bells, black bun and the origins of hogmanay

Hogmanay in Scotland is a great festive time, steeped in many customs and traditions. Below are some of these and the reasoning behind them:

New Years Eve Customs

During the day of Hogmanay the household would be busy cleaning so that the New Year could be welcomed into a tidy and neat house. It is considered ill luck to welcome in the New Year in a dirty uncleaned house. Fireplaces would be swept out and polished and some people would read the ashes of the very last fire of the year, to see what the New Year would hold. The act of cleaning the entire house was called the redding, ie getting ready for the New Year.

Pieces from a Rowan tree would be placed above a door to bring luck. In the house would be placed a piece of mistletoe, not for kissing under like at Christmas, but to prevent illness to the householders. Pieces of holly would be placed to keep out mischievous fairies and pieces of hazel and yew which were thought to have magical powers and would protect the house and the people who lived in it. Juniper would be burnt throughout the house, then all the doors of the home would be opened to bring in fresh air. The house was then considered ready to bring in the New Year.

Debts would be paid by New Year's Eve because it was considered bad luck to see in a new year with a debt.

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Any visitors who arrive before the chimes of midnight on New Year's Eve would have to be violently shooed away to prevent bad luck. At midnight the man of the house would open the back door to let the old year out and then open the front door of the house to let in the new year. The household would also make as much noise as possible to scare off evil spirits. In harbours throughout Aberdeenshire, at Aberdeen Harbour and throughout the North East Sea fishermen and sailors will sound their horns and these sounds carry for miles.

new year resolutionsNew Year Bells

The first stroke of the chimes at New Year is known as The Bells. People would sing Auld Lang Syne together whilst linking arms. Read the words of Auld Lang Syne.

After the bells have rung people would go visiting friends and family, or first footing as it is known in Scotland. This would involve carrying a bottle of spirit such as whisky to offer people a new year dram. In olden days when people could only afford one bottle of spirit’s a year this bottle would take pride of place on the mantelpiece or by the fireplace and only opened at the stroke of midnight.

Hogmanay Toasts

As people wish each other a Happy New Year there are some hogmanay toasts that can be said. A traditional Scottish New Year toast is:

Lang may yer lum reek!

Which means long may your chimney smoke and originated when people had coal fires and if the chimney was smoking it meant that you could afford coal and keep warm.

Another New Year toast said by Scottish people is:

A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see"

Which translates to English from Scots as A good New Year to one and all, and many may you see.

New Year Resolutions

Resolutions are made at New Year, the most popular being to stop smoking or to loose weight. Scots may seem a sentimental race who hark back to the past, but we are also a race who look forward to the future and so Scotland invented making a New Year resolution. I can’t find much historical evidence for New Year resolutions but it seems to have originated in Victorian times.

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First Footing
The first foot of the New Year (the first person to step into the house and sometimes called the first fit) should traditionally be a tall black haired man. This stems back to the 4th - 12th century when unwelcome visitors to this shore were Vikings who were short and fair-haired. It is considered luckier to have the opposite type of person to visit. He or she should be honest, healthy, good tempered and liked by all. They must not be carrying a sharp object like a knife. It is not unusual for a household to choose a first footer and make arrangements prior to Hogmanay.

Unlucky First Footers

Women and red haired people are considered unlucky first footers, as is a person who first foots empty handed with no gift. Such a person will bring bad luck to the household for the rest of the year. Scottish hospitality means that the unlucky first footer cannot be turned away and must come in for some refreshment. Some households overcome this bad luck by asking the person to throw salt on an open fire if they have one or placing a piece of burning straw up the chimney. Roman Catholics will cross themselves if an unlucky first footer arrives at their house. Others make a cross from Rowan twigs and place this at their front door. If an unlucky first footer arrives they touch this twig cross three times saying the name of their God each time before the first footer speaks. This might sound daft in modern times but Scots have always been superstitious and do not want to suffer 12 months bad luck until the next first footer arrives.

Other unlucky first footers include Doctors, a Minister, thieves, a grave digger, someone born with a handicap, a flat footed person and someone whose eyebrows meet in the middle. This may seem politically incorrect but these hark back to the days before PC and are written here for historic interest.

Going Out First Footing

Those going out first footing should carry a bottle to offer a drink, a lump of coal to signify that the house will keep warm, bring comfort and be safe for the year, black bun, or more modernly shortbread, to signify that the household won't go hungry for the year and a silver coin to bring prosperity to the household for the new year.

Friends, family, neighbours and even strangers are welcomed in with a handshake and the words "A Happy New Year" or " A guid year tae ye" (A good year to you) and then offered a dram and a bite to eat. The New Year is toasted with many a glass of whisky.

In some Scottish communities the Hogmanay tradition of taking a turn still exists at parties. A turn can be reciting a poem, singing a song, telling a joke or story telling.

Hogmanay Customs
Creaming of the Well

Households who still have wells should perform the creaming of the well tradition - the first water to be drawn from the well in the New Year. A woman who wishes to wed a particular man would try to get him to drink from this water by the end of the day to guarantee marriage. In olden days when there was a community well the villagers would rush to be the first to cream the well because it would foretell good fortune for the year.

Source: aboutaberdeen.com
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