Historical Hogmanay Traditions

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Hogmanay has been the historical New Year celebration in Scotland. For some time, it was really the only way the Scottish could celebrate with gift-giving and festivities in the winter since 1583 when the Presbyterian Church began discouraging Christmas, claiming it had no basis in the Bible. Due to the Protestant Reformation in 1647, Christmas was banned for over 300 years! In 1958 Parliament named Christmas a national holiday. Today, Hogmanay is still celebrated from December 31 through January 2.

In this blog, we’d like to share five basic historical Hogmanay traditions with you.

A wee dram of whisky is customary for Hogmanay celebrations.

Redding the House 

Redding the House is basically getting the home clean and ready for the Hogmanay festivities. A smoking juniper branch was used to clear out the demons and rid the dwelling of disease. Redding also included sweeping out the fireplace ashes. In old times, the ashes were even read as tea leaves are read in a cup. The soot would reveal the household’s fortune for the new year.

Cleaning out the fireplace ashes was an important aspect for Hogmanay.

First Footing

Traditionally, the first person to enter a dwelling foretold the luck of the inhabitants. After the stroke of midnight, neighbors would visit bearing a gift, such as shortbread, and were then offered a bit of whisky in return.  The First Foot is the first person to enter the home in the new year. The luckiest visitor would be a tall, dark male; however a ginger (especially a female ginger) was seen as ill-fated. Note to self: don’t let Lady K enter your home as the First Foot!

Hope a tall, dark haired male enters your home first on Hogmanay!

Bon Fire or Fire Festival

The Fire Festival has Viking or pagan origins. Fire was seen as a means to purification and would drive away the evil spirits. Today, Scotland has several major Fire Festivals which include processions with torches, bagpipers, and of course whisky! These celebrations often go on for at least 24 hours. To read about the five most popular festivals , click here.

Be gone evil spirits!

Auld Lang Syne

We’ve all heard Robert Burns’ rendition of Auld Lang Syne. It remains unknown how this particular song became the traditional New Year ballad. In Edinburgh, party-goers join hands and sing, making the world’s largest performance of Auld Lang Syne.

Sass3 asked the talented Dark Isle Piper, Tress Maksimuk, to play the ditty on her bagpipes:

For more wonderful music videos by Dark Isle Piper, visit her YouTube channel  here.

Saining of the House

This final tradition was historically used to bless the house and livestock. Water from a nearby stream was gathered and made holy for the blessing. Saining of the House has seen a recent revival in Hogmanay jubilees. The woman of the residence wanders from room to room with a smoking juniper sprig to invoke happiness and purify the home.

Traditionally, water from a local stream was used in order to bless the house.

How wonderful it would be to ring in 2018 in Scotland with these traditions and festivities! Perhaps we can bring a bit of this history into our homes to ensure our new year is merry and bright.

Does your family have special New Year customs? We’d love to hear about them.

Timeless Sass3nach Journeys wishes you all a VERRA HAPPY HOGMANAY!

References on December 31, 2017:



All photos from our blogs are owned by Timeless Sass3nach Journeys, unless noted or attributed. The use of our photos is not permitted unless consent is given.

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