- Location: All over Scotland; particularly Stonehaven, Dundee, Dunfermline near Edinburgh and Burghead in Moray
- Attraction Type: Festival
- Significance: Colorful Parades, Firework Displays, Fire Festival, Music and Dance
- Best Time to visit: Between 31st December and 3rd January. The festival takes place on New Year’s Eve.
- How to Reach: All major Scottish destinations are joined by most international destinations via airways. Reach Edinburgh and take 20 minutes to ride to Dunfermline. Reach Stonehaven via road from Edinburgh.
- Nearest Airport: Edinburgh Airport
Hogmanay! It’s New Year Time in Scotland. Move over Times Square, move over Sydney — if it’s New Year celebrations, Scotland is the place to be. The reasons for such ecstatic New Year celebrations are somewhat obscure and lies deep within the recesses of its Viking history, but what cannot be denied is that Scotland celebrates New Year like no other place.
Origins of Hogmanay
There are many theories put forward behind the origin of the word ‘Hogmanay’. There have been attempts to trace the word etymologically to Scandinavian, Gaelic and even Flemish roots. The origins of the celebrations also trace back to the pre-Christian Viking past of Scotland. The Vikings invaded Scotland from even northerly regions, and the passing of the winter solstice, which is when days start becoming longer again, was a particular moment of celebration. It was that very custom that passed on smoothly to become a central aspect of the Scottish way of life.
The Presbyterian Church in Scotland banned Christmas for about four centuries as being little more than a popish celebration. Till the 1960s, and in some parts, even in the 1970s, Christmas was a working day. The Scots celebrated their winter solstice from the 31st of December. Now, with the diminishing influence of the Church of Scotland, Christmas is a holiday in most parts. However, the significance of the Hogmanay is on the rise and is now more popular than ever.
Celebrations of Hogmanay
The celebrations of Hogmanay start from the 31st of December and go on till the wee hours of 1st January. Since 2nd January is the national bank holiday, the celebrations continue till that day as well. The 3rd of January is celebrated as Ne’er Day. If it happens to fall on a Sunday, it becomes an automatic holiday; if it falls on the weekend, it becomes an extended official holiday.
Celebrations of Hogmanay differ from one part of Scotland to another. Edinburgh, particularly the neighboring township of Dunfermline, the ancient Scottish capital, are major centers of Hogmanay celebrations. However, despite regional differences, there are certain common factors that bring them all together. Most commonly, the houses are cleared before the midnight of 31st December. The ashes from the fire pit are cleared — this old practice has a particular symbolic significance. In certain parts, clearing off all debts before the midnight bells go off is also expected. As the bell rings in the city bell towers, the celebrations begin.
The first step towards the celebrations is literally the first step, also known as the first-footing. The first step is taken by a neighbor or a friend to a neighbor or a friend’s house and is meant to bring good luck to the household. The visitor, usually male and preferably dark, is expected to carry gifts of salt, coal, shortbread, black bun and whiskey, each with its specific symbolic importance. Although all of them are hardly carried anymore, whiskey and shortbread are continued to be carried.
Torch and Firework Displays in Hogmanay
Fireworks are popular all over the world as a mode of ushering in the New Year, but in Scotland, it’s fireworks with a difference. Fire ceremonies, which take a whole new dimension in various parts of Scotland, is a throwback to the country’s pagan past. Although celebrations vary from one part of Scotland to another, the general theme remains the same — making of fireballs, effigies, firecrackers, and smoke toward the evil spirit away.
Stonehaven is one of the major centers of Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland. Fireball swinging is one of the major customs of the city. A whole collection of inflammable materials including old cotton rags and dried sticks are rolled into a ball using chicken wire. They are then tied to a rope and revelers swing it across their heads, as they parade towards the harbor. Finally, the fireballs are thrown in the harbor. Musical performances and colorful parades take place after the last fireball is thrown to the sea. In Burghead in Moray, the burning of split casks known as clavies is a very popular custom. Dundee is also an important center of Hogmanay festivities.
Where to Stay
Choose your accommodation based on the city that you plan to visit during the New Year’s time. All major Scottish cities have many wonderful accommodation facilities including hotels, hostels, inns, guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts. Bay View B&B, Beachgate House, Aberstone Guest House, and Jennifer are some of the most popular accommodation facilities in Stonehaven.
Dundee has a large number of hotels catering to guests of all tastes and budget ranges. The Hilton, the Shaftesbury and the West Park Center are some of the most popular hotels in Dundee. However, you can also opt for the B&Bs and the hostels that are functional over there.