A Complete Guide to Hogmanay Traditions

A Complete Guide to Hogmanay Traditions

Hogmanay is a Scottish name for the New Year celebrations that take place between 31st December and 2nd January. It is one of the most legendary traditions in the world, dating back to the pagan ages.

Today, being a combination of ancient rituals that have been passed down through generations, and a contemporary celebration, Hogmanay remains one of the most important annual festivities in Scotland.

In this blog, we’ll explore some of the most significant Hogmanay rituals and the tradition behind them.

Where Did Hogmanay Come From?

Although the origin of the word is not exactly known, it is said to originate from the French word ‘hoginane’ meaning ‘gala day’. According to the BBC, its use dates back to Mary, Queen of Scots’, and her return to Scotland from France in 1561.

The tradition itself can be traced back to the pagan times, and a festival called Samhain which marked the close of the harvest at the end of each year. As years passed and Catholicism became the nation’s main religion, the celebration was renamed to the midwinter yule festival, with communities engaging in social gatherings with abundant food and drink.

In 1560, when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, known as Reformation, all traditions associated with Christianity, including Christmas, were frowned upon and ultimately banned for around 400 years. Thus, new year festivals became the predominant annual celebration.

Even though by the late 17th Century, the ban had been partially lifted, the new year remained the big celebration in the Scottish calendar.

Hogmanay Traditions

Throughout the centuries, Hogmanay has retained its unique practices and customs to suit contemporary progression. The celebrations attract visitors from around the world and are known for their originality and links to bygone eras.

Redding the house

To ensure the new year is prosperous and filled with success and happiness, the Hogmanay tradition of redding the house, meant cleaning the home, removing old ashes from the fireplace, and repaying any outstanding debts.

All of which must be done before midnight on December 31st.

First Footing

First footing is the tradition of visiting friends or family immediately after midnight. The very first foot, or first person to visit in the new year, is believed to set the precedent for the proceeding twelve months.

The custom says it should be a tall, dark-haired man, carrying a lump of coal to ensure the house remains warm in the coming months.

Black bun, or a dark rye bread has been traditionally given as a first footing gift to ensure the family has plenty over the coming year. Nowadays, a gift is still a very important part of this tradition, with many Scots marking their gatherings with a wee bit of whisky.

Joining Hands for Auld Lang Syne

This midnight tradition involves families and communities joining in to sing Auld Lang Syne, a song by Scottish bard Robert Burns, which marks the transition from the old year to the new. Singers usually form a circle, hold hands and as the song comes to an end and the new year begins everyone joins in together in the middle of the circle.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

Saining the House

The custom of saining (or blessing) involves drinking and then sprinkling blessed water across the house, early on New Year’s morning. Originally, according to the tradition, the water was sourced from a river ford, believed to be crossed by both the living and the dead.

Following this, juniper branches are burnt to fill the house with smoke, which is thought to purify the household and drive evil spirits away.

Afterwards, the windows and doors are opened to let in fresh, New Year air, along with a generous sip of whisky, before enjoying a big breakfast.

Fire Processions

The tradition of fire ceremonies pre-date Christianity. It is believed the fireballs signified the sun and the procession was meant to purify the world by warding off evil spirits.

Nowadays, the fire ceremonies are replaced with the annual Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh, as well as other towns and involves thousands of people marching and carrying blazing torches. The cities are usually filled with fire and light installations, creating a stunning display for visitors from around the globe to enjoy.

Ceilidh Street Parties and Dancing


The word Ceilidh originates from Scottish Gaelic and means party, or social event.

As an important aspect of Hogmanay celebrations to this day, there are traditional ceilidhs all over Scotland, starting a few hours before midnight, where people will gather and dance to traditional Scottish music, with pipers, fireworks, parades and Highland dancing, as well as plenty of food and drink.

They vary in size, from smaller-scale local parties to large events in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, and routinely attract crowds of up to 100,000 people.

Loony Dook

Although this tradition only started in 1986, as a New Year’s Day hangover cure following all the Hogmanay celebrations, it has quickly become a must-see event for tourists.

A loony dook involves hundreds of people in costumes throwing themselves into the freezing water of the Firth of Forth. Prior to the big finale, there is a parade through the High Street featuring the plethora of amazing, funny and creative outfits. From Captain Hook, Hulk and Wonder Woman, to, clowns, Christmas pudding and banana outfits, the selection is spectacular.

Even with its modern interpretation, Hogmanay is still believed to be one of the most popular new year celebrations attracting thousands of people from across the world.

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