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Since Christmas was banned in Scotland for over 400 years, the Scots perfected the art of celebrating New Year’s Eve. Hogmanay is so sacred that even January 2nd is a public holiday, just to give them an extra day of recovery.  The Scots word for New Year’s Eve is Hogmanay, believed to originate from the Greek word for ‘holy month’. The origins of the celebrations are from the Norse Vikings, who partied throughout the shortest day of the year, The Winter Solstice.  As a result, Hogmanay celebrations have become a mix of customs from the Vikings and various British regions.

 

First Footing

Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

 

Traditionally, Scots were very superstitious, and Hogmanay is no exception. The first person to enter your house was believed to affect your fortune for the new year. Specifically, a tall dark haired man carrying a gift is believed to bring good fortune. Ideally, the guy pictured above. On the other hand, a fair-haired female is considered bad luck. The gifts were usually the traditional black bun or whisky, to symbolize prosperity. Which brings me to another point: whisky. Hogmanay always has lots and lots of whisky.

 

The Up Helly Aa

http://www.shetland.org/things/events/culture-heritage/up-helly-aa/
Photo courtesy of David Gifford (2014)

 

The Up Helly Aa is a festival held in Shetland to celebrate their Viking heritage on the last Tuesday of January. The Jarl squad – who look a lot like a biker gang dressed as Vikings – is led by their leader, the Guizer Jarl, in a march through Lerwick town. The march is set off by the Guizer Jarl’s Viking ship being set on fire, after which the Jarl squad dance and sing the ‘Up Helly Aa Song’. It is believed the Up Helly Aa was a way to protest the Christmas ban, whereby people created a party in the streets after Christmastime. People dress as Vikings and create an uproar in the streets.

 

Photo courtesy of Jane Barlow (2016)

 

This involves lots of fire, feasting, drinking, shouting, singing, beating of drunks and blowing of horns. Hogmanay celebrations in the rest Scotland also feature Torchlight progressions. Up Helly Aa has also been known as The Northern Mardi Gras and the Fire Festival. Want to get involved this year? Act fast. Shetland is notoriously difficult to get to, and tickets for the popular festival sell out fast. You can call the Shetland tourist board at +44 (0)1595 693434 or look for tickets here.

 

The Auld Lang Syne

To this day, when the clock strikes midnight, the people of Scotland sing the iconic Auld Lang Syne. The Auld Lang Syne is a famous Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, set to the tune of a traditional folk song. Funnily enough, the tune was also used for the national anthems of the Maldives and South Korea. The title translates to “old long since”, which has been interpreted as old-speak for “once upon a time” and “for the sake of old times”. If you’re celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland this year, learn the lyrics below so you can belt along with the Scotsmen! To make it easier, you can sing along with good ol’ Rod Stewart in the video.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup, and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne

We twa hae run about the braes, and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit, sin’ auld lang syne

 

The Loony Dook

Photo courtesy of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

 

The Loony Dook is a true test of courage and body temperature control. Every year,  Scots put on their best fancy dress (or nothing at all) and march along the High Street of South Queensferry. Then, as the ultimate hangover cure, the masses launch themselves into the baltic waters of the Firth of Forth. The history of the Loony Dook is, well, as Scottish as they come. On January 1st back in 1987 at The Moorings Lounge bar, Andy Kerr and Jim Kilcullen were drunkenly discussing New Year’s hangover cures. Jim proclaimed:

“Ach, let’s jump in the Forth on New Year’s Day, maybe it’ll clear the hangovers!”

Kerr agreed: “If you will, I will.” It wasn’t long before other friends and locals at the bar agreed to join in too.

The first Loony Dook, photographed by David Steel

 

Only a handful of people participated in the first Loony Dook back in ’87, but the event has only continued to grow. Since 2009, people from all over the world have started participating. In 2016, over 1,000 participants and 4,000 spectators from 25 different countries joined the fun. To this day, Andy Kerr and Jim Kilcullen still participate in the Loony Dook every year – 2018 will mark their 32nd ‘Dook’. Tickets are sold out, but you can find people selling their tickets on the Facebook page or simply join as a spectator.

 

Ba’ Game

Photo courtesy of Orcadian (2014)

 

A mass sporting event known as Kirkwall’s Ba’ Game is played on the streets Orkney’s capital on January 1st. Two teams compete: the Uppies and the Donnies. Teams are traditionally based on which Scottish island you’re from. The Ba’ (a small leather ball) is thrown into the crowd, with the simple aim of getting the Ba’ into your team’s goal once.  It’s not as easy as it sounds – the game may go on for hours as players have to navigate streets and alleyways. The game is simple, however, as there aren’t really any rules. This also means scrums, tackles and hits are fair game. And don’t expect to leave the game without a few scrapes and bruises. It is the Ba’ Game, after all.

 

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