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A Happy, (Scottish) Hogmanay to You

We sense the rich Scottish ties to the New Year each time we clumsily sing Auld Lange Syne. Robert Burns published the reinterpreted Scotts poem in 1788, but Scotland’s richly historical ties to the New Year run even deeper than the country’s renowned New Year’s song.

In Scotland, New Year’s celebrations are more extravagant, wild (we’re talking fireballs here) and rooted in tradition than in other counties. So important is the passage from one year to another, in fact, that the Scotts have their own name for the event: Hogmanay. Hogmanay refers to the last day of the year but it’s synonymous with all of the days-long celebrations related to it.

Hogmanay developed into an especially important holiday because Christmas celebrations were discouraged in Scotland for about 400 years, up until the 1950s. Now Scotland is world-famous for its celebration of the New Year.

Fireballs and Flamethrowers
Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire is a small coastal town in the northeast region of Scotland. During Hogmanay festivals the town lights up—literally. Stonehaven welcomes the New Year with its Fireballs Ceremony. At the Fireballs Ceremony volunteers swing gigantic balls of fire on the end of long chains. After parading through the town’s High Street, revelers toss the fireballs into Stonehaven Harbour.

Burning the Clavie
Burghead, a fishing village on the Moray Firth, parties similarly to Stonehaven’s celebrants. Burghead residents observe Hogmanay with an ancient Scottish ritual known as burning the clavie. The clavie is a bonfire villagers parade with then place on top of Doorie Hill. Burning the clavie brings good luck. After the clavie burns on Doorie Hill Burgheadians divvy up its charcoal and put it in their chimneys. It keeps the witches out.

Saining in the Highlands
Saining—Scotts for “protecting” or “blessing”—is an old Highlands custom. Early on New Year’s morning, Highlanders drink and sprinkle magic water all over the house. Afterward they set juniper afire and carry it through the home to bless it. Once inhabitants begin to cough from the juniper smoke, the household’s matriarch serves up a restorative shot of whiskey.

British author Evelyn Waugh has described Hogmanay as “getting sick on the Glasgow pavements.” But these local Hogmanay customs show that its traditions are richer and more important than that. And even though New Year’s Eve in Times Square doesn’t hold a candle to Scotland at Hogmanay, you can observe New Year’s Eve in a special way. Get dressed up and go out to dinner, then come home and build a fire. Just don’t repeat Waugh’s experience.