Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year's celebration that takes place over the course of several days. While the festival and its customs date back to pagan celebrations of winter solstice, the word Hogmanay itself is harder to trace. Scholars have guessed that the word possibly comes from the French, Norse, or Goidelic languages.

This year's Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland's gorgeous capital city, starts on December 27th with a street carnival featuring rides and entertainment. The festival will officially get under way on December 30th, known as the "night 'afore," with a spectacular torchlight procession. Over 25,000 celebrants will follow Shetland’s Up Helly Aa’ Vikings, who march in Viking costume, through the city, to Calton Hill for a fireworks finale.

December 31st is Auld Year's Eve. Street parties, outdoor concerts (homeboys Simple Minds headline the main stage festival this year), and indoor concerts (a Baroque evening by candlelight in St. Giles' Cathedral), and The Keilidh (a concert of traditional pipe and drum Scottish music) all culminate in an overwhelming firework display at the stroke of midnight.

There are many charming New Year's customs in Scotland. "First footing" is the idea that the first person to cross the threshold of your home is a harbinger of good luck. Starting immediately after midnight, people call on friends, going from house to house for much of the night and even into the morning and next day, with over half the population of Scotland observing the practice of "first-footing." It is good luck for the "first-footer" to be a tall, dark male. Traditionally, this male would bring gifts of a coin (symbolizing prosperity), bread/ black bun fruitcake (symbolizing food), salt (flavor), coal (warmth), or a drink (good cheer). These days, a "first-footer" usually just brings the whiskey!

January 1st is Ne'erday, a contraction of New Year's Day. The celebrating and "first-footing" continue, the annual Loony Dook takes place in the Firth of Forth (a cold plunge for charity), and many Scots still observe the day with a special dinner of steak pie.

Haud Hogmanay, everyone!

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