Happy New Year and lang may yer lum reek

Scotland is a land of ritual and ceremony, much of it based upon centuries of folklore and superstition. Chief among those ancient observances is the celebration of Hogmanay and the welcoming of the New Year.

Photograph by: Kenny Lam / VisitScotlandFirst footer

Up and down the country, as the clocks ticked down to the last seconds of 2017 many men, usually young, tall and dark, were forced to leave their warm homes or kept standing on the doorstep until the stroke of midnight.

It is considered good luck if the first person across the threshold in the New Year is a tall, dark man carrying a gift of some sort. Often the gift can be as simple as piece of coal, a bit of cake and maybe a dram to wish the occupants of the home warmth, health and happiness for the year ahead.

Woe betide any home where the first guest is female or not tall and dark as this can be an ill-omen. It is also considered unlucky for anyone to leave the house in the New Year until somebody else has come across the threshold.

The tradition is called First-footing and used to be a very common feature throughout the country as whole communities went from house to house to share a drink, a song and good humour with their neighbours. The celebrations have been known to last two or three days.

Almost as soon as the clocks sound the last stroke of midnight people hold hands with anybody standing next to them and sing Auld Lang Syne, which contrary to belief among some millennials was not written by Mariah Carey but Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns. It’s a tradition that has been adopted world-wide as an anthem for friendship, nostalgia and memories of those loved and lost in previous years.

  • Full feature in Issue No.13

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