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First footing and Hogmanay, a truly Scottish New Year!


Hogmanay is the Scottish word for new year's eve. A day that is still to many scot's bigger than Christmas. Their Hogmanay celebrations include street parties that have been some of the biggest in the world and some now require tickets for entry due to the huge crowds. It is said to have been such a large and important event for several reasons mostly due to religious differences when Christmas was not celebrated then workers couldn't get the time off during the industrial revolution. So they continued to celebrate winter solstice based on ancient ritual and customs for the changing of the seasons. Now on the last minute of the year come 'the bells' closely followed by Auld Lang Syne and the toast may be heard "Lang may yer Lum Reek!" Which means long may your chimney smoke. This gives good fortune as when coal fires where common it meant that you could afford coal and keep warm.


Hogmanay traditions

On hogmanay there is much to be done if you wish for a good year ahead, you must see the new year out properly before you can hope for a good year ahead. Hogmanay day is a day for cleaning (known as redding) your home thoroughly in the days of coal fires this included sweeping the ashes from the fire. Many would also bring items into their home to bring luck these include pieces of Rowan tree above the door for luck, mistletoe in the home ( not for kissing as at Christmas) to prevent illness and holly to keep out mischievous fairies. They would burn juniper throughout the house once cleaned then open all the doors and windows to bring in fresh air. Some still practice these today, mostly the cleaning of the home. It was also believed that all debts should be paid off by the end of the day. So what did the children do whilst this was going on?

Hogmanay guising

Very similar to halloween in that children would go round to the homes in the area for gifts of oatcake, black bun, shortbread, sweets or money. They would traditionally sing 

Rise up, guid wife, an shake your feathers

Dinna think that we are beggars:

We are bairns come out to play,

Get up and gie's our Hogmanay!


What is first footing?

First footing is central to hogmanay celebrations. It is the first person to set foot into a home after midnight, that person is thought to determine the fortune for that home on the coming year good or bad. This person can't just be anyone, they have to fulfill certain requirements and going to perform their role adequately. Traditionally the person should have been a stranger though this is generally not the case anymore and a friend is usually used. The person MUST be a man, it's considered a very bad omen if the person first entering the home is female. The man MUST have dark hair, this is believed to date back to the Viking invasion as they were said to be light haired and very unlucky to have entering your home! It is also said that the man should be tall the Scot's are blessed with many things however height is not one of them so this is not completely necessary. The first footer should also be fair of face, again not completely necessary but due to the duties shown further on most women do still prefer this. So now you know the whole tall, dark and handsome idea! The first footer must also bring items to ensure good fortune.

Traditionally the first footer brings into the home a lump of coal, black bun (rich fruit cake), salt and a 'hawf bottle' (half bottle of whiskey). These represented respectively warmth, food, wealth and good cheer. Times have changed so people now carry shortbread instead of black bun and an alcoholic drink can be substituted for whiskey, however whiskey is still preferred. Some still take salt and coal for tradition though the custom to place the coal on the fire is not so much appreciated in an age of radiators! The first footer having managed to pass all other requirements should now be in your home, if they haven't met the other needs then shut the door quick before they step in and try the next person, no one wants a year of bad luck because a blonde guy forgot the whiskey!

Once in the home they have to do a few things to really bring you and your home good fortune. They should be led through your home which will have been thoroughly cleaned the day before as tradition states. The first footer should place the coal onto the fire (if you find a home still using a real fire, they are beautiful) and then they should offer a toast to the house and all within it, using the all important whiskey everyone should have a few wee drams at Hogmanay! A traditional toast is " A guid new year to ane an' a many may ye see" translated means a good new year to one and all and many more may you see. If all of this is carried out well then the first footer is permitted to kiss every woman in the home, hence the desire for the first footer to be handsome.


Creaming of the well

Another custom for new years day for any household who still has a well. Creaming of the well is the taking of the first water of the new year. If a woman wanted to marry a particular man she should try to make him drink this before the day ends. In the times of a community well villagers would rush to be the first to cream the well as it was thought to bring good fortune for the year.

After all of this don't forget your new year resolutions, these also started in Scotland! Hope you learnt something from this and enjoyed reading all about Hogmanay.


Norm McCallum on December 31, 2011:

Excellent article. Clear and concise.

Midnight Oil from Isle of Man UK on January 01, 2011:

Nice article, we still have first-footing on the Isle of Man too...

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