A Scottish New Year’s

Welcome to Wednesday, January 3rd – Susan Sarah here. 

We pulled a little switcheroo, so that a few of us – myself, Jo, and Loretta – will appear on slightly different days. I’m the Wednesday Wench now!

Christmas, New Year’s, and Twelfth Night traditions have been very nicely covered by some of the other Wenches by now, but I thought I’d put a bit of a Scottish spin on things (being the Wee MacWench).

Hogmanay. What a weird word. It’s the Scottish term for New Year’s Eve, used for centuries in the Highlands as well as the Lowlands – and even the Scots don’t know what it means! Some say it derives from the French – possibly aguilleneuf (au gui l’an nuef) or in Normandy hoguignete, terms for gift-giving at the new year. Some think it’s an old Saxon term, “Haleg monath” for “holy month.”

Personally I think the French and Saxon is stretching it, and that the origin is much earlier and more on home turf. Others suggest that Hogmanay is a phonetic approximation of some Gaelic phrase, perhaps Oiche Mhadainn or Og Mhadainn (Good, or New, Morning), or the phrase “Theacht mean oiche”meaning midnight is here, other phrases for candle-night, or New Year’s Eve. When spoken aloud, they’re not far from the sound of "hogmanay."

Waltzers And there was even an early 19th c. gentleman who was convinced that Hogmanay derived from the phrase “hug-me-now” and was intended as an old parlor game (played by English-speaking ancient Celts, apparently), and as such was an aspect of the dancing and merriment and general goofing around that was part and parcel of the Scottish Christmas season celebration. A traditional Scottish dance at Christmas time, Regency-style, began with a kiss on the cheek, so one sees where this gentleman’s mind was straying.

My vote’s on some Gaelic derivative, which supports an early origin for Hogmanay celebrations. Since a very early Scottish New Year’s custom involved young men running around the streets of villages wearing animal skins and banging on drums and kettles and blowing horns and pipes to scare away evil spirits (these fellows were called “guisers”) –so Hogmanay traditions go way back, before the Scots spoke Scots (“hug me now”??). And, taking into account the changes in calendars over the earlier centuries especially, it’s worth pointing out that Hogmanay, and Christmas, were celebrated anywhere from late September to late January until the dates were finally fixed.

Christmas in Scotland also went on for days – the “Daft Days” they were sometimes called, the twelve days between Christmas and New Year’s Day filled with celebration, visits, dances, and gift-giving. January 6th and Twelfth Night was celebrated in Scotland, with revelry the game of the evening, and a king and queen chosen from a bean hidden in a cake. This was an especially popular custom at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Shinty Along with gift-giving, dances, celebrations by torch light, there was also the Highland game of playing ball – later called The Ba’ – sort of a version of shinty, which is similar to hurley, hockey, and soccer on a wild and wide scope. A stuffed leather ball is kicked and played from one goal to another – usually two houses, identified by piled plaids on their doorsteps – and these might be at opposite ends of a village, or even between two villages and over part of a glen. It was a wild, raucous game that required two teams and could involve hundreds of boys and men. The streets were lined with cheering specators as the Ba’ was kicked and propelled in and out of streets, through kailyards and chicken yards, up and down heathery hills, and the mad playing would go on all day long. 

On New Year’s Day is the tradition of the First Footer, which Edith told us about the other day – generally a handsome young dark haired man is considered the most lucky if he’s the very first to set foot in your house on the first day of the year (and who wouldn’t consider THAT a lucky omen!). In some parts of Scotland, redheaded women and blond men are considered very unlucky to see first thing on New Year’s –a tradition that probably goes back to the Viking invasions.
BTW, my red-haired Scots-Irish mother (and her red-haired sisters and Fraser mother) thought this was a lousy tradition. 

Another old Scots tradition is Handsel Day, which is the day after New Year’s Day, Jan. 2nd, when gifts were traditionally given out – originally as tokens of gratitude to servants and others who lent their help during the year, and sometimes as small gifts between friends and family.

And there’s no New Year’s anywhere, nowadays, without “Auld Lang Syne” which was written (at least in its most lasting form) by the Scots poet Robert Burns. He patched it together from some traditional verses, and improved it with a couple of new verses of his own.

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 tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

To hear Auld Lang Syne as the Scots render it, here’s an audio clip of Dougie MacLean singing Burns’s Auld Lang Syne on his CD, Tribute. His version is also on the compilation CD, Brave Hearts: http://www.amazon.com/gp/music/wma-pop-up/B00000J7UP001010/002-3261447-3243250

Cheers!  May 2007 be kind to each of you, and bring you great good wishes.

Susan Sarah

Stockingful11ofjoy_1 p.s. For more about the First Footer and Hogmanay partying in Scotland, check out my novella, "The Snow Rose" in A STOCKINGFUL OF JOY, set in the rollicking 16th century.

28 thoughts on “A Scottish New Year’s”

  1. You remind me that I need to take myself off to The Edinburgh Castle (best Scottish bar in San Francisco!) for a New Year’s drink. Thanks for the great info, I’d never heard of The Ba’, but one of my heroines is so going to get caught in the middle of that!!!

    Reply
  2. You remind me that I need to take myself off to The Edinburgh Castle (best Scottish bar in San Francisco!) for a New Year’s drink. Thanks for the great info, I’d never heard of The Ba’, but one of my heroines is so going to get caught in the middle of that!!!

    Reply
  3. You remind me that I need to take myself off to The Edinburgh Castle (best Scottish bar in San Francisco!) for a New Year’s drink. Thanks for the great info, I’d never heard of The Ba’, but one of my heroines is so going to get caught in the middle of that!!!

    Reply
  4. You remind me that I need to take myself off to The Edinburgh Castle (best Scottish bar in San Francisco!) for a New Year’s drink. Thanks for the great info, I’d never heard of The Ba’, but one of my heroines is so going to get caught in the middle of that!!!

    Reply
  5. >
    I experienced the very same thing in the far northern mountains of Greece/border of Macedonia, many years ago. We were woken up at crack of dawn by men wearing wolfskins (and skulls) and bearskins, and with a “bride” and “groom” and “priest” and all sorts. They played music on various instruments — one of which was a bagpipe.
    And being of Scots background myself, I’ll tak a wee dram and drink your health, wenchlings. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  6. >
    I experienced the very same thing in the far northern mountains of Greece/border of Macedonia, many years ago. We were woken up at crack of dawn by men wearing wolfskins (and skulls) and bearskins, and with a “bride” and “groom” and “priest” and all sorts. They played music on various instruments — one of which was a bagpipe.
    And being of Scots background myself, I’ll tak a wee dram and drink your health, wenchlings. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  7. >
    I experienced the very same thing in the far northern mountains of Greece/border of Macedonia, many years ago. We were woken up at crack of dawn by men wearing wolfskins (and skulls) and bearskins, and with a “bride” and “groom” and “priest” and all sorts. They played music on various instruments — one of which was a bagpipe.
    And being of Scots background myself, I’ll tak a wee dram and drink your health, wenchlings. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  8. >
    I experienced the very same thing in the far northern mountains of Greece/border of Macedonia, many years ago. We were woken up at crack of dawn by men wearing wolfskins (and skulls) and bearskins, and with a “bride” and “groom” and “priest” and all sorts. They played music on various instruments — one of which was a bagpipe.
    And being of Scots background myself, I’ll tak a wee dram and drink your health, wenchlings. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  9. “Along with gift-giving, dances, celebrations by torch light, there was also the Highland game of playing ball – later called The Ba’ .. snip….
    The streets were lined with cheering specators as the Ba’ was kicked and propelled in and out of streets, through kailyards and chicken yards, up and down heathery hills, and the mad playing would go on all day long. ”
    Sounds a lot like the early games of Australian football played in Melbourne in the 1850s.
    But I also wondered whether that’s what that line from The Bonnie Earl of Moray means
    “He was a braw gallant and he played at the ba’ ” (which I always heard as ball with the l dropped, as it often is in some accents. ) I always imagined him playing… maybe the bagpipes at a ball (of the dance sort) but maybe it means this game. He also played at the ring. Don’t know what that was.
    Sorry for getting carried away with multiple posts. Very interesting post. Thanks

    Reply
  10. “Along with gift-giving, dances, celebrations by torch light, there was also the Highland game of playing ball – later called The Ba’ .. snip….
    The streets were lined with cheering specators as the Ba’ was kicked and propelled in and out of streets, through kailyards and chicken yards, up and down heathery hills, and the mad playing would go on all day long. ”
    Sounds a lot like the early games of Australian football played in Melbourne in the 1850s.
    But I also wondered whether that’s what that line from The Bonnie Earl of Moray means
    “He was a braw gallant and he played at the ba’ ” (which I always heard as ball with the l dropped, as it often is in some accents. ) I always imagined him playing… maybe the bagpipes at a ball (of the dance sort) but maybe it means this game. He also played at the ring. Don’t know what that was.
    Sorry for getting carried away with multiple posts. Very interesting post. Thanks

    Reply
  11. “Along with gift-giving, dances, celebrations by torch light, there was also the Highland game of playing ball – later called The Ba’ .. snip….
    The streets were lined with cheering specators as the Ba’ was kicked and propelled in and out of streets, through kailyards and chicken yards, up and down heathery hills, and the mad playing would go on all day long. ”
    Sounds a lot like the early games of Australian football played in Melbourne in the 1850s.
    But I also wondered whether that’s what that line from The Bonnie Earl of Moray means
    “He was a braw gallant and he played at the ba’ ” (which I always heard as ball with the l dropped, as it often is in some accents. ) I always imagined him playing… maybe the bagpipes at a ball (of the dance sort) but maybe it means this game. He also played at the ring. Don’t know what that was.
    Sorry for getting carried away with multiple posts. Very interesting post. Thanks

    Reply
  12. “Along with gift-giving, dances, celebrations by torch light, there was also the Highland game of playing ball – later called The Ba’ .. snip….
    The streets were lined with cheering specators as the Ba’ was kicked and propelled in and out of streets, through kailyards and chicken yards, up and down heathery hills, and the mad playing would go on all day long. ”
    Sounds a lot like the early games of Australian football played in Melbourne in the 1850s.
    But I also wondered whether that’s what that line from The Bonnie Earl of Moray means
    “He was a braw gallant and he played at the ba’ ” (which I always heard as ball with the l dropped, as it often is in some accents. ) I always imagined him playing… maybe the bagpipes at a ball (of the dance sort) but maybe it means this game. He also played at the ring. Don’t know what that was.
    Sorry for getting carried away with multiple posts. Very interesting post. Thanks

    Reply
  13. Teresa- Oh yes, the whiskey! A very important part of a guid Scots celebration. 😉
    Kalen- the Scots do know how to have a great endless holiday! I was thrilled to find the research bit about the ball game, which fits perfectly with one of the Highland stories I’m currently writing for Avon (2 at once, crazy or what). Lots of fun though.
    Sherrie – glad you liked the Dougie clip! Check out his music at http://www.dougiemaclean.com
    Anne — that’s fascinating! Macedonia, wow!
    I know the Scots ballad you mentioned. There’s lots of different kinds of ba’ played in Scotland, could be almost anything. I wonder if ‘playing at the ring’ might be jousting, he was a 16th c. laddie. Or maybe some sort of gambling game. When they weren’t playing ba’ or the golfe, they were playing cards. *g*
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  14. Teresa- Oh yes, the whiskey! A very important part of a guid Scots celebration. 😉
    Kalen- the Scots do know how to have a great endless holiday! I was thrilled to find the research bit about the ball game, which fits perfectly with one of the Highland stories I’m currently writing for Avon (2 at once, crazy or what). Lots of fun though.
    Sherrie – glad you liked the Dougie clip! Check out his music at http://www.dougiemaclean.com
    Anne — that’s fascinating! Macedonia, wow!
    I know the Scots ballad you mentioned. There’s lots of different kinds of ba’ played in Scotland, could be almost anything. I wonder if ‘playing at the ring’ might be jousting, he was a 16th c. laddie. Or maybe some sort of gambling game. When they weren’t playing ba’ or the golfe, they were playing cards. *g*
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  15. Teresa- Oh yes, the whiskey! A very important part of a guid Scots celebration. 😉
    Kalen- the Scots do know how to have a great endless holiday! I was thrilled to find the research bit about the ball game, which fits perfectly with one of the Highland stories I’m currently writing for Avon (2 at once, crazy or what). Lots of fun though.
    Sherrie – glad you liked the Dougie clip! Check out his music at http://www.dougiemaclean.com
    Anne — that’s fascinating! Macedonia, wow!
    I know the Scots ballad you mentioned. There’s lots of different kinds of ba’ played in Scotland, could be almost anything. I wonder if ‘playing at the ring’ might be jousting, he was a 16th c. laddie. Or maybe some sort of gambling game. When they weren’t playing ba’ or the golfe, they were playing cards. *g*
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  16. Teresa- Oh yes, the whiskey! A very important part of a guid Scots celebration. 😉
    Kalen- the Scots do know how to have a great endless holiday! I was thrilled to find the research bit about the ball game, which fits perfectly with one of the Highland stories I’m currently writing for Avon (2 at once, crazy or what). Lots of fun though.
    Sherrie – glad you liked the Dougie clip! Check out his music at http://www.dougiemaclean.com
    Anne — that’s fascinating! Macedonia, wow!
    I know the Scots ballad you mentioned. There’s lots of different kinds of ba’ played in Scotland, could be almost anything. I wonder if ‘playing at the ring’ might be jousting, he was a 16th c. laddie. Or maybe some sort of gambling game. When they weren’t playing ba’ or the golfe, they were playing cards. *g*
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply

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