Celebrating Hogmanay

The following are just some suggestions of the things you can do for Hogmanay and New Year’s Day in Scotland, and New Year’s Eve in Ireland, as would be considered ‘traditional’, taken from the articles posted. Since it is usually very much a social occasion, a lot of suggestions work best for a group (or at least a household), and different responsibilities can be shared out to everyone who wants to get involved. On your own, or in very small groups, it should be easy enough to adapt most things to your circumstances. If you don’t have fellow Gaelic Polytheists to celebrate with, you can do any ritual observances privately and simply share in the more secular elements of the festive fun with friends and/or family.

I incorporate many of these suggestions into my own practises, accompanied by the performance of the Deiseal ritual and offerings made to gods, spirits and ancestors to start the proceedings off.

Celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland

  • In the run up to the evening, tidy the house, get everything in order and get as much work out of the way as possible.
  • Any baking you plan on doing can be done in advance – you can make the Hogmanay bannocks (oatcakes, a little thicker than you’d normally make them) ready for breakfast the next day, if you like.
  • As the evening draws in, light lots of candles around the house, and light a fire in the hearth if you have one. A bonfire is optional…
  • Make some protective charms of rowan and read thread, and hang them above the thresholds of the front and back doors.
  • The house, and everyone in it, should be blessed. The blessing of the guisers, and mummers plays, can be put on if there are enough participants in a group, but otherwise a Hogmanay blessing could be adapted for individuals or smaller groups. First the house should be sained outside, with something smouldering (this was traditionally a smouldering sheepskin, but other items can be improvised with – smouldering branches, reminiscent of the fir or heather lights that were used at other times, for example) being taken round the house three times desieal. Inside the house should be blessed as well, and as outside, the blessing should include a sunwise turn, made three times round the hearth or a prop such as a chair (as was used in more modern houses, that had no central hearth) as something appropriate is said, such as the one McNeill includes:

“Great good luck to the house,
Good luck to the family,
Good luck to every rafter of it,
And to every worthy thing in it.
Good luck to horses and cattle,
Good luck to the sheep,
Good luck to everything,
And good luck to all your means.
Good luck to the gudewife,
Good luck to the children,
Good luck to every friend,
Great good luck and health to all.”

As this is said, everyone else can make loud noises – bangs and clatters – to get rid of any negativity.

  • As the bells begin to strike twelve, somebody should let the old year out – open the back door and sweep it out. Others can go to the windows and make a big racket, to get rid of any residual negativity (if you feel you want to repeat it, from the blessing. Or time the blessing to lead up to the bells). Then go to the front door and open it to welcome the New Year in. A traditional greeting is:

“Welcome in New Year!
When you come, bring good cheer!”

Alternatively (or additionally, if you like), in the run up to the bells you can bury the old year – a bottle of whisky, some cheese and a bannock was traditional, buried on a hill as by-standers keened and mourned for the old year.

  • After midnight has struck, share a toast to the New Year, with a wee dram, some specially prepared Het Pint, Atholl brose or any other drink you like. Traditional toasts include:

A good New Year to one and all,
And a merry Handsel Monday.

A good New Year to one and all,
And many may you see!

Bliadhna mhath Ùr dhuit – Happy New Year to you 
(Blee-uh-nuh vah Oor goot)

Mar sin duit fhein, is mòran diubh – The same to you, and many of them
 (Mar shin dooit hayn, iss moor-an jooh)

  • Small gifts can be exchanged in groups, and singing Auld Lang Syne is very popular, although those who prefer a Gaelc alternative could sing Oidhche Mhath Leibh by John MacFarlane, a traditional farewell song. McNeill gives the music for it in her book, The Scots Cellar.
  • After the bells, skim the well (or tap, in this day and age), and keep the water for the following day – enough to sprinkle around the house and for everyone to take a sip. In a group, you could give some for everyone to take home to use for saining themselves.
  • Entertainment! Have a good time and make merry.
  • First-footing is traditional after the bells, and it should be someone who is not an immediate member of the family or household. Someone of good health and humour, preferably with dark hair, is often the most auspicious first-footer, and traditionally a man with a fair-haired female companion. They should arrive with gifts – food (such as shortbread), drink (such as whisky), and a lump of coal or a small log for the fire, to represent sustenance and warmth for the coming year.
    The first-footers should greet the host with one of the traditional toasts or well-wishes, and then the host invites them in. First a drink is shared from whatever the first-footer has brought, with a toast. Then likewise with whatever the host has in the house. Then food is shared in the same manner, and then the most important bit – getting on with the partying…
    Should an inauspicious first-footer happen to arrive, the host should traditionally speak first. Salt can be thrown on the fire to counteract the ill omen.
  • If you want to do some first-footing yourself, then don’t forget to bring something for whoever you’re visiting. You might not want to turn up on somebody’s doorstep at an unholy hour (with arranging it first, anyway), but when you visit someone for the first time in the New Year, take something with you. This New Year just passed, the local supermarket was selling chocolate “Hogmanay coal lumps”. Everything festive gets reduced to chocolate eventually, it seems.
  • Before going to bed, remember to put a silver penny on your doorstep. If it’s still there in the morning, it’s an auspicious sign.

See also: Hogmanay entries on the Tairis blog.

New Year’s Day in Scotland

On New Year’s Day morning, bring in some rowan, holly or hazel for decoration. A twig from a fruit tree can also be brought in, with the words “Growth, custom, and fertility!”

  • Use the water that was collected the night before to sain the house – everyone should take a sip, and the rest should be sprinkled about the house, on the walls and the threshold. More traditional is using water from ‘the dead and living ford’ (a stream over which funeral processions go over), but this may not be something that’s easily accessible for everyone. Or drinkable, in this day and age. Juniper was traditionally collected the night before, dried by the fire and then burnt about the house to sain it as well. Juniper is becoming increasingly rare in Scotland so it’s not something I’d do myself, except for a small token amount once the juniper I’ve planted has established itself. Berries could be used as an alternative, if you want to do it at all, but given the amount of fumes the stuff gives off, it may not be feasible for some.
  • A wee dram was given to every member of the house on New Year’s morning, along with a spoonful of sowans. Oatmeal might be a modern alternative to sowans, since most people will find it difficult to make these days, but whatever you decide on, it can be turned into a divinatory rite by placing charms in it.
  • The usual breakfast porridge was off the menu on New Year’s Day, and instead a slap up cooked meal including bacon, eggs and the Hogmanay bannocks, cheese and butter were favoured. A full belly to ensure a prosperous year to come.
  • Dinner, or lunch, was also supposed to be a hearty meal. Steak pie is still the traditional dish in many parts of Scotland, or else it’s goose or lamb.

New Year’s Eve in Ireland

New Year’s Eve tends to be kept a little quieter in Ireland (by comparison), but that doesn’t mean the New Year can’t be seen in in a traditional manner either.

  • The main focus is a good dinner on New Year’s Eve – Oíche na Coda Móire (the Night of the Big Portion), so everyone goes to bed on a full stomach, so it’s a good excuse to have people round and share in the festivities.
  • A Christmas loaf (or something similar) can be rapped against the door as the bells approach, to send the old year out and make way for the New Year, with the words:

An donas amch
A’s an sonas isteach
Ó’ anocht go dh’bliain ó anocht
In ainm an
Athar a’s an Mhic, a’s an Spiris Naoimh, Amen.
(Happiness in and misfortune out 
from this night
Until a year from to-night
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of 
the Holy Spirit, Amen.)