/ The Edinburgh Guide
Edinburgh — By Andy Hayes on December 27, 2009 at 11:39 am
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Hogmanay: What the Heck Is it?

As we learned last week, Christmas has never been a big deal in Scotland.  That’s why the New Year’s Eve traditions in Scotland are so vibrant.  Oh, and yeah – we don’t call it New Year’s Eve.  It’s Hogmanay (pronounced just like it looks, “hog – man – ay”).  Here’s everything you need to know about Hogmanay.

hogmanay fireworks


Here are some of the traditions that you’ll find alive and well (or at least well talked about) for Hogmanay.

First Footing.  The first footer is the first person to cross your doorstep on the New Year.  In Scotland (not so much today but very, very recently) this was a major neighbourhood phenomenon - at the stroke of 12, folks would head out with a lump of coal for the fire and a whisky for drink to offer each of their neighbours.  The first footer was traditionally a handsome, dark-haired male but of course anyone with a whisky would be welcome!  I still haven’t understood how if everyone was first footing everyone else, wouldn’t everyone be in someone else’s house alone, which is perhaps why this fun tradition is dying out.

Bonfires.  Perhaps it’s the old Celtric traditions, or maybe the viking influences, but I have a feeling you can see Scotland from space on Hogmanay, between the fireworks and all the bonfires.  The largest fire is probably the Biggar Bonfire (yes that’s not misspelled), in Biggar, a small village just outside of Edinburgh.  In various myths the bonfire represents purifying the spirit as well as warding off bad and evil.

Similar to the bonfires is the Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony.  It seems the origins are similar (fire marking purity as well as celebration).

Dooking.  Every New Year’s Day, you’ll find people from all over the world in Scotland dooking themselves.  What is a dook, you ask?  Well, it’s diving into the freezing waters of the North Sea!  Absolutely crazy.  The biggest is probably the Loony Dook, but you’ll find them all over Scotland.  (And if you ask Google for some pictures, you’ll see that the attire chosen for this event ranges from fancy dress to speedos to birthday suits.  I suppose if you’re going to be THAT cold, it doesn’t matter, does it?)  The word dook is an old Scots word for swim.

And There’s That Funny Song

Have you ever wondered what the heck the lyrics are that funny song everyone sings at New Year’s Eve?  Well, it’s Auld Lang Syne.  It’s a song by famed Scottish poet Robert Burns.  You haven’t lived until you’ve danced in a Scottish ceilidh at midnight singing this traditional song – it is truly a moment to remember, as I mentioned during my experience at the Queen’s Hall last year.

Is there any other song in the world that is sung in unison (well, in unison in each time zone) across the world all on the same night?  Incredible.

Surviving the Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival

More than likely you may find  yourself in Edinburgh for Hogmanay.  Here’s a few tips for surviving the events:

  • Book everything early. That means hotels, that means meals (if you’re going somewhere special), and of course event tickets.  Things sell out EARLY.  In fact, if you’re reading this on the day it has been published, you are probably too late.
  • Try to stay within walking distance of the city centre.  Similar to many other cities around the world, public transport after the fireworks is a total mare.  Getting a taxi?  Impossible.  So resign yourself to the fact that you’re walking home.
  • Take it easy.  It is very common for folk to overindulge any time of the year here in Edinburgh, but people seem to take it to an extreme for Hogmanay.  (I’m being kind.)  So take it easy, there’s no need to polish off all that champagne and whisky all in one night.

photo by foxypar4

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