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Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Midnight Fireworks © Stuart Nicol

While most countries in the world celebrate New Year there is only one Hogmanay. For many Scots this pagan festival is more important than Christmas with parties all over the country, from the huge, world famous street party in Edinburgh right through to tiny villages where ancient traditions like ‘First Footing’ still hold sway in the modern world.

History of Hogmanay

For the uninitiated Hogmanay needs a bit of explaining. It is said to have had its origins in the Norman term when presents were given as ‘hoguignettes’ on the last day of the year. Traces of Hogmanay go back a long way in Scotland’s turbulent history, but it really came to the fore during the Reformation when Christmas was often dismissed by Protestants as a largely Popish festival. The pagan customs of Hogmanay became increasingly popular and overtook Christmas in importance in the Scottish calendar.

Many traditions surrounded Hogmanay in those days. On the Isle of Skye the hide from a beast killed during the day was burned, with every guest having to sniff the smoke to ward off evil spirits. If the hide went out during the sniffing this was meant to being extremely bad luck to the holder. In some areas young boys covered themselves with the hide of a bull, with the horns and hoofs still attached. Another tradition was to singe a sheep’s breast and pass it around to be held at revellers’ noses. Don’t worry, though, as most of these ancient rites have now disappeared!

First Footing at Hogmanay

One tradition that has survived is ‘First Footing’. This is heading to the houses of neighbours and strangers alike to welcome in the New Year with lashings of whisky and food. Traditionally it was considered good luck for the first person to enter a house after ‘The Bells’ to be a dark-haired male stranger who should bear a gift of a lump of coal to symbolise warmth and prosperity. In many towns and villages across Scotland first footing is still going strong, so if you have Scottish friends you may be in luck and be taken on this unique drunken roller coaster ride.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – The Big One

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Midnight Fireworks Cityscape © Tony Marsh

Over the last decade or so Edinburgh has really established itself as the place to welcome in the New Year, not just in Scotland, but on a global scale with its nefarious street party now world famous. On the big night itself Edinburgh’s Hogmanay descends on the city centre as streets are shut off and police barriers set-up. The assembled masses drink merrily along no matter the weather as the new year approaches. Then when midnight comes all hell breaks loose as the city’s stunning castle explodes in a barrage of fireworks and the party really gets started.

Hogmanay Around Scotland

Away from Edinburgh there is also plenty else going on. Most large towns and cities lay on some sort of party and even when there is nothing official it is still a special night with pubs allowed to open late and first footers staggering on through into the wee small hours.

Win FREE tickets

One of the wackiest events takes over the small town of South Queensferry, only a 15 minute train ride from Edinburgh, on New Year’s Day. Here the ‘Loony Dook’ is the activity of choice for the mad local folks and anyone daft enough is welcome to join in. It all kicks off with a parade of happy loony dookers led by bagpipers down the historic High Street. Then the real fun starts as they spill down the Boat House Steps and straight into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth! We told you Hogmanay was unique! Here at Welcome to Scotland we know how much you love Hogmanay so we’ve been in touch with those lovely people at Edinburgh’s big Hogmanay bash. They’ve given us one pair of Concert in the Gardens tix and four pairs of Street Party tickets. To stand a chance of winning all you need to do is place a comment at the foot of this post. Look out too for Edinburgh Hogmanay’s big #blogmanay campaign, which will see bloggers from all over the world come to Scotland to cover the festivities and the chance for all of you to become involved too.

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