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Hogmanay

 

The below information was posted by Gary Sinclair on the Sinclair Discussion List, December, 2003. 

Huntingtower's annual contribution ;-)))))):


New Year's Eve or 'Hogmanay' as we in
Scotland call it, and have always felt that it is Scotland's own great mid-winter festival.

There has always been some controversy as to where the name 'Hogmanay' originated. Some would say it came from the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath (Holy Month), some, from the Gaelic oge maidne (New Morning).

But whatever the origin of the name, it has remained in the conscience of the Scottish people over many centuries. It was once the custom in
Scotland to give gifts on the first of January, and apparently up until around the 18th century the number of gifts given then, far outshone those given at Christmas, in both number and quality. It is only fairly recently that some parts of Scotland ended the practice of giving tokens to children, which themselves were called "hogmanays".

The very fact that
Scotland chose to celebrate the New Year in preference to Christmas is said to have its roots in the Kirk, which viewed the Christmas celebrations as ' superstitious and popish'.

Visiting friends and relatives immediately after New Year's Eve, after the bells have rung in the New Year in the morning of January 1st, was known, and still is, as First footing, the tradition of being the "first foot" in the house after midnight (and it is that the only person that really matters is the 'first-foot) whom should ideally be male, tall dark, and handsome without a limp, stammer or other physical handicap and should carry symbolic coal, to signify warmth and comfort, shortbread, salt, black bun ( a spiced cake) to denote plenty and, of course, whisky from which to pour a wee dram to toast the health of all whom lived in the hoose. When I was but an awfu wee laddie, our granny always gave us a silver coin to be given at the first foot to ensure prosperity.


As a bairn, my own memories of Hogmanay were always happy. These being memories of men carrying coal, black bun and whisky into the house, and of streets in
Perth lively and bright with singing until well into the daylight hours. And it was that the people who throughout the previous year might have been antagonistic and just plain unfriendly towards each other would suddenly become the best of friends, while the practice of kissing absolute strangers never seemed to cause embarrassment on either party, in fact I can weel remember an auld spey type wifie with the second-sight, at a bothy Hogmanay celebration I was once party to, did bless me apparently with the special 'kissing' and it was to be that hence onwards that a kiss from the Huntingtower was itself much envied by mony a lass for as "but a kiss from him was but sae special itself" but I digress, and one Hogmanay tradition I myself weel enough remember, although it seems to have now died out, was the "Creaming of the Well". The cream referred to was the first water from the local well or spring on a New Years Day. Since the well would only be drawn the once, everyone would race to reach it, and in particular the young lassies, for possession of the first water drawn was said to guarantee marriage within the New Year. It was said that for this to work, the young woman concerned would have to get the lad they desired to marry to drink the water before the end of that first day. And it was to be that the Huntingtower was very guarded when awaking in the morning or whatever morning I eventually awakened, to but be very cautious in accepting a drink of water from any lassie.


In all the traditions and customs of Hogmanay, one theme survives, that the new year must begin on a happy note, with a clean break from all that may have been bad in the old year. It is from this underlying theme that the most common of all Hogmanay traditions has its root, the New Year resolution. Sadly, although such resolutions are made in a meaningful and honest manner, few last longer than the third dram or second cigarette!

But there was the other traditions as weel, things like: Preparing the hoose, Fire and Water rituals, the Weather watching signs, and the new Year's day omens, and make nae mistake the traditional 'Hogmanay' had its differences between the Lowlands Highland and Islands.

But it was the 'Hogmanay' in the rural parts that I weel enough remember as being the better than in the toons, a wee knock on the door of some cottage or farm-house and that was it, you always were the welcome, aye, and inside everyone did a party piece, a ceilidh right enough, either a song or tune, poem or story and man o'man a wee dance upon the floor with a bonnie lassie, aye, and always a pot of scotch broth, in fact it was when I was but a laddie, that you 'first-footed' a wee dram shared, a plate of soup a kiss, a dance. A story etc., etc., then out and a walk to the next hoose, where you started all ower agin, and with the braw plate of soup and the walk this sobered you up agin for the next puckle drams, aye, Happy Days indeed ;-))))) och!!! I could tell you stories about Hogmanay right enough.


And noo, from last year, it was myself that wrote thus:

It is funny how something viewed or heard suddenly brings the auld grey cells back to the memory front, for as tired as I was with the events of the last week, it was the 'Hogmanay' enquiry from the Jody herself that had me day-dreaming about the 'Hogmanay' that I can weel enough remember, albeit with wee gaps nae doubt, but it was at my grans hoose that the family and friends gathered but also my memories go back to remembering things like:

"The preparation" this itself caused much work, (just like thon lassies war-cry at the spring-cleaning) for it was considered most unlucky for any abode to be untidy or unclean by midnight on New Years eve (Hogmanay), and I can weel enough remember the days aforehand spent by the Granny and Mither scrubbing and polishing the hoose until it shone brightly, it seemed to me as a wee laddie that everything in the hoose received the attention, and even in the wee bothy, it was that, just afore the 'bells sounded' that the last of any dust or dirt and the ashes from the fireplace were ritually, as the old year died out, put outside, the final cleansing of the old as it were.
It was also that water from the well was brought and sprinkled over the hoose, and I can weel enough remember the panic that ensued when one year the wee well water was frozen solid and it was the urine from the coo that was used.

Dried Juniper was burned to cleanse the interior of the barn, I cannot remember if this was used in the hoose, and Rowan collected was placed above the door, apparently for luck, Holly of course to keep the fairies out, Mistletoe to prevent illness and i think it was the Yew or Hazel that was used to protect all within the hoose.

When
midnight of the New Year but came it was then that nothing could be taken from the hoose, not until something had been brought in. I can weel enough remember that the 'first foot' would bring in the lump of coal, go to the fireplace, place it upon the unlit fire, and then the master of the hoose lit the fire with the coal upon it, then it was the celebrations started, and in the morning as the embers of the fire lay dead, it was the 'spey wifie' wha came and examined them, raking among the ashes, examining them for any signs of omens and ill fortune.

And if anybody in the hoose should die, then the body it was said would bring the worst of ill luck if allowed to lie in the hoose over the Hogmanay, and burial was a hastily arranged affair if someone died in the last days of December.

And as I grew from but being a wee laddie in shorts to the manhood in lang trous, it was in Perth at the Cross (at the Skinnergate/High street junction) that we made our way amongst the crowds, carrying our traditional bottle, and as the clocks hands neared midnight, the magic moment, there was the hushed silence from the crowd, everything as still and as quiet as could but be, everyone counting the seconds, holding their breath, waiting for the first stroke of 12, then from the silence a church bell was heard and that lit the torch-paper for all of a sudden it was 'New Year's morn, and everyone started the shaking of the hands, the kissing of the lassies, the sharing of the drams from the bottles, the wishing of guid luck, health and prosperity to one and all, freind, relative and stranger alike, the street that had been so silent with nae even a whisper, the silence itself absolutely stunning, and it was thon first bell sound that in one moment an explosion as it were had taken place, for all around everyone was spontaneously with chorus of 'Auld lang Syne, and even from the Harbour could be heard the sirens of the ships, the churches with their bells ringing, and in the country the farmers would be firing their shotguns in the air, I believe, though never witnessed it myself, that in the mining villages, it was the pits horns that also sounded.

And then the crowds would at some time disperse making their way to homes of family and friends where the 'ceilidh' type of morning had but often commenced and there was the soup pot which never seemed to go dry, and then the ritual of leaving and onward to another hoose, where it all started once again, the sharing of the bottle etc., etc., and then at some point whether it be at your Mithers or Granny's hoose it was the New Year's day feast, which as far as i can remember was without variation, being:

Scotch broth soup, Steak Pie (often for me it was the Rabbit Pie), Cabbage or Turnip and tatties, followed by the Clottie Dumpling. Aye, a grand feast thon was indeed, just grand itself.

And often as not I found myself with a lassie by my side, happen a lassie wha had accompanied me from some hoose I had visited, and wha wid be enjoying the fayre at my Grans table and them relatives of mine there, wondering why I had nay had the manners to introduce the lassie afore the New Year, and oorselves had just nae lang met.

But for me it was that the absolute magic of Hogmanay was of the drawing together of the family. The ending of any auld animosity, I even had the cheek to visit the polis hoose at Almonbank as weel, aye with the lump of coal, and never but a welcome itself can I remember, mind you, maybe not sae welcome had the polis kent that the lump of coal had itself been shifted by magic from the coal yards of the Perth railway company, but then wha wid care, no, it was a friendly enough time was the 'Hogmanay'.

Huntingtower

 

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