Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
An auld auld song merely transcribed by the grrrrrreat Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788, though evidence shows that the song had been around for at least 80 years before then.
And the proper Scottish way to celebrate the end of the year? Why, to get drunk, eat a whole lot, get drunker, go outside and dance and sing, drink some more, set off fireworks, and then run around with torches and swing balls of fire throughout the town!
The Scots know how to throw a party, and it doesn’t get any bigger than during New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Hogmanay festivities start early – a whole day early – with a spectacular torchlight procession along the Royal Mile. Wrap up warm, down a wee dram and join the thousands of flame-wielding locals marching from Parliament Square at 6.30pm through Edinburgh’s streets, accompanied by the wail of bagpipes, before congregating for a dramatic fireworks display over Calton Hill.
In a country not known for its balmy weather, the celebrations continue – mostly outdoors – for the next three days. New Year’s Eve itself is given over to a raucous street party, a ticketed event with staged live music and hordes of people dancing into the early hours. Other events include an outdoor ceilidh and a candlelit concert in St Giles’ Cathedral, although these are likely to be sold out in advance.
Ignore the hangover and head out again on New Year’s Day, when there are more concerts (K T Tunstall is headlining) and street festivals lasting until the 2nd, when, finally, the locals pack up and call it a day.
Nobody is really sure where the word “hogmanay” came from. It could be French, it could be Flemish, it might even be Scandanavian. The fire part of the party certainly has Viking roots. But the name is all Scottish these days, and so is the party. It’s a national holiday, and when the calends end properly, it’s a 4 day national holiday!
1 January and 2 January remain public holidays in Scotland and Hogmanay still is associated with as much celebration as Christmas in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate Ne’erday with a special dinner, usually steak pie. When Ne’erday falls on a Sunday, 3 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne’erday falls on a Saturday, both 3 January and 4 January will be public holidays in Scotland; when Ne’erday falls on a Friday, 4 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland.
4 days of drunken revelry? Now that’s a party!
Historians believe that we inherited the celebration from the Vikings who, coming from even further north than ourselves, paid even more attention to the passing of the shortest day. In Shetland, where the Viking influence was strongest, New Year is called Yules, from the Scandinavian word.
It may not be widely known but Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. The reason for this has its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk portrayed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and exchange presents, especially for the children, which came to be called hogmanay.
There are traditions before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common). There is also the superstition to clear all your debts before “the bells” at midnight.
An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.
“First footing” (that is, the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky.
Bringing fire (coal), food, medicine (salt) and booze? Those are libations for the gods. Magic ingredients. Oh, this one goes waaaay back, yes it does.
The magical Firework display and torchlight procession in Edinburgh - and throughout many cities in Scotland - is reminiscent of the ancient custom at Scottish Hogmanay pagan parties hundreds of years ago.
The traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks. The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was also wrapped around sticks and ignited which produced a smoke that was believed to be very effective to ward off evil spirits. The smoking stick was also known as a Hogmanay.
One of the most spectacular Fire ceremonies takes place in Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen on the North East coast. Giant fireballs, weighing up to 20 pounds are lit and swung around on five feet long metal poles, requiring 60 men to carry them as they march up and down the High Street. The origin of the pre-Christian custom is believed to be linked to the Winter Solstice of late December with the fireballs signifying the power of the sun, to purify the world by consuming evil spirits.
Horry clap! Say it with me, here’s your chance: Grrrrrreat Balls o’ Fire!!
And when it’s all over, may your hangover avoid the sweet skirling of the pipes, for health’s own sake!
Not me. I personally love the bagpipes. It gets me worked up. It makes me want to fight. And that’s exactly what it’s all about. Bagpipes are a weapon.
Now, for those with more peaceful inclinations, who read through this post and wondered what a black bun is, I’ll tell you. It’s a crusted loaf shaped pastry, filled with a sugary mix of preserved fruit. Rather like mincemeat pie, just in a different shape.
Mmmm, mincemeat. Yum. Here’s a super easy recipe that uses up a whole jar of the stuff, the moist kind, not the dried kind that they sell in the little cardboard box.
oatmeal mincemeat bars
2 c oats
1 3/4 c flour
1 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
mix these together. Now cut in
1 c shortening
grease or butter a 9x13 glass baking dish
take half of mixture and press firmly into dish
1 whole jar (27oz) ready-to-use mincemeat
optional - now toss on 2 or 3 handfuls of chopped nuts
pour remaining mixture on top, press in gently
350 oven for 40 minutes, or 400 oven for 30 minutes
when cool, dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar
If you’d like to ramp up the fruity flavor with the addition of a tablespoon or two of kirschwasser or other fruit flavored brandy, add an extra half cup of oats and flour to the dry mix.
Happy New Year to all BMEWS writers & commenter alike.