Today we are going to learn all about a very special holiday in Scotland called Hogmanay!
LEVEL: Upper Intermediate and Advanced English Lesson
updated Dec 15th 2020
I’ve made a mini-glossary at the side of the post to check the meaning of some words I think you might not know (including ‘Hogmanay!) These words are in bold and italics. If you have any other questions, please write in the comments and I’ll get back to you.
9 Unique Things About Scotland At New Year!
Of course I’m going to be biased BUT there is no denying that we Scot’s celebrate Hogmanay with more gusto and passion than anyone else! As well as a heap of traditions and superstitions, you’ll also find celebrations, events, and knees- ups, wherever you are in Scotland.
Whatever the scale of the event, Scotland’s Hogmanay celebrations guarantee a warm welcome, more new friends than you ever knew you had, combined with a frenzy of goodwill!
Hogmanay = Scots for New Year
a heap of = (a quantifier) meaning lots of/ a lot of
a knees-up = a lively party or gathering. (British slang)
a frenzy = a state or period of uncontrolled excitement or wild behaviour
1. We have our own word for it! Hogmanay
Hogmanay is the Scots word for New Year’s Eve – the last day of the year, and it refers to the celebration of the coming year. It is so important that the 1st AND 2nd of January are public holidays in Scotland. (This is essential as you’ll need both days to recover from the hangover).
At Hogmanay, you may hear someone ask you “Where are you bringing in “the bells”? ‘Bringing in the bells’ refers to the ten-second countdown to midnight where bells chime all over Scotland to signify the beginning of the New Year.
So you want to make sure that you’ve planned where you’ll be and who you’ll be with for midnight, because there’s a lot of boozing to be done and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a kiss or two!wp-admin
hangover = a severe headache or other after-effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol
the bells = countdown to midnight at New Year
to booze = drink alcohol
2. Hogmanay is sometimes considered more important than Christmas
“Historians believe that Hogmanay celebrations were elevated in importance after the banning of Christmas by the Scottish Presbyterian Church in the 16th and 17th centuries. Christmas was therefore essentially banned in Scotland for the best part of 400 years until the 1950s, and it wasn’t recognised as a public holiday until 1958.”
However, the desire to exchange gifts and to celebrate the year’s end was still a strong pull, so right up until the 1950s, many would work over Christmas and celebrate at new year with whisky, bonfires and loved ones in a nation-wide party that came to be known as Hogmanay.
to ban = officially or legally prohibit (something)
a strong pull = something that is appealing/ desirable
bonfire = a large open-air fire used as part of a celebration
3. It’s in our blood
“It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. They paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice or the shortest day, and fully intended to celebrate its passing with some serious partying.
In Shetland, where the Viking influence remains strongest, New Year is still called Yules, deriving from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.”
to derive from = to come from, as a root or origin
4. Traditions and Superstitions
Cleaning the house and clearing your debts.
It’s considered bad luck to have an unclean house at the beginning of a new year. In the past after the big cleanup, someone would go from room to room carrying a smoking juniper branch to discourage evil spirits and chase away disease. I don’t think this happens now, but who knows?!
You should also clear all your debts before “the bells” in order to clear out the remains of the old year and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.
5. Auld Lang Syne
At “the bells” we commonly sing a lively rendition of Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns. Robert Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and in fact we have another party just to celebrate him, known as Burns Day or Burns night, which is on January 25th. But that’s for another time!
This tradition has spread all over the world. Historians call it “the song that nobody knows.” And yet, we’ve all tried to sing it at some point and probably not very well!
Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne in 1788. As Scots immigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Eventually, North American English speakers translated the Scots version into the common lyrics we know today. So what does it mean?
The phrase “auld lang syne” literally translates to “old long since,” and basically means, “days gone by.” So the next time you try to sing it, you’ll know what it means!
“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.”
Since ancient times, households across Scotland have welcomed strangers through their doors with the aim of bringing good fortune for the year ahead.
Traditionally, the first foot to arrive in your house on New Year’s Day should be a dark-haired male. This is believed to be a throwback to Viking days when blonde strangers arriving on your doorstep only meant trouble. The first-footer should also bring symbolic gifts, such as coal, shortbread, salt, or whisky, to ensure good fortune for the year ahead.
The tradition of first-footing nowadays means that the party can last all night long, as it is common to go from house to house calling in on your neighbours, friends and family.
a throwback = a reversion to an earlier ancestral characteristic
to call in on someone = (P.V) to visit someone at their house
See 21 Conversation Questions in English for Holiday Parties
3 of the best places to spend New Year in Scotland
Well, as I said earlier, no place is too small for a big celebration, but I can’t speak about Hogmanay without mentioning my three personal favourite events!
I’m going to use extracts from an article written by visitscotland.com. We’re going to look at three specific events that can only be found in Scotland! For the whole list, you can link to the full article here and if you ever intend to visit this amazing place, I recommend this website as your first port of call to help you plan your trip.
first port of call = The first place where one stops to visit, accomplish something, or begin a process.
7. STONEHAVEN FIREBALLS
Photo: Screenshot from google search images: Stonehaven Fireballs
My personal favourite, maybe because I’m from this neck of the woods. But apart from that it really is impressive!
“One of many winter fire festivals unique to Scotland, is the fireballs parade in Aberdeenshire. It’s a free Hogmanay event which has been celebrated for over 100 years and it always attracts a large crowd.
Traditionally, it was a cleansing ritual to burn off any bad spirits left from the old year so that the New Year can begin clean and purified.
Watch in awe as the piper leads the procession marching down the street just before midnight as they swing balls of fire above their head in the ultimate test of bravery.”
neck of the woods = informal a particular area.
to burn off = P.V. to remove something by burning it
Things to do in Stonehaven!
If you do visit Stonehaven, make sure you check out this guide by My Voyage Scotland
(Image from My Voyage Scotland Things to do in Stonehaven)
8. HOGMANAY STREET PARTY in EDINBURGH
I’ve only ever done Edinburgh once at Hogmanay, and it was many moons ago, but it was one of the best ones yet!
“Princes Street welcomes the merrymakers to one of the greatest events on the planet (and we mean it!). Set beneath the spectacular backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, dance the night away at the Concert in the Gardens featuring incredible live music, entertainment, DJs, giant screens, and outdoor bars.
As the bells strike midnight, admire the world-famous Edinburgh Hogmanay Midnight Fireworks on the castle ramparts. And make sure you don’t leave before Auld Lang Syne – a national sing-along where you join hands with friends you just met from across the globe in its biggest rendition in the world.”
This one really can only be done in Edinburgh and is a truly unique experience! But a word of warning, and to avoid disappointment, for most events you do need to buy tickets in advance.
a merrymaker= a person who gaily or enthusiastically takes part in some festive or merry celebration
9. Drams in Dufftown
A dram is Scots for a small drink of whisky, but it could be used for other spirits.
“Dufftown in Speyside is known as the ‘malt whisky capital of the world’. While most of its New Year celebrations are much the same as you would find in small towns and villages up and down the country, it has its own special twist. After the annual Hogmanay ceilidh at a local hotel, the community gathers in The Square where drams of whisky and pieces of shortbread are shared out to see in the bells, courtesy of the local Glenfiddich distillery and Walkers biscuit factory.”
Ceilidh means a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. A modern ceilidh usually involves Scottish dancing.
Play video to learn how to pronounce Glenfiddich!
So that’s it! 9 reasons why Scotland rocks at New Year. Have I convinced you to go?!
Now it’s over to you – feel free to ask about any other vocabulary here and of course, let is know in the comments what the new year traditions are in your country!