Hogmanay: Scottish New Year

Hogmanay is a centuries-old New Year celebration originating in Scotland. It is associated with the giving of gifts, good luck, and the saining of households in the spirit of out with the old and in with the new.

Originally, Hogmanay was celebrated at Samhain to rejoice in the harvest. It was later moved to coordinate with Yule and the Nordic influences.

The period of Hogmanay is known by the Scots as the "daft days" and is a time of merriment, enjoyment, and celebration. People took time off to enjoy the festivities and feast with their neighbors.


Sound like fun? Keep reading.

Saining The House And Livestock


Hogmanay is still an important event in the Scottish festival calendar, and it comes from ancient traditions passed down through the generations.

Get ready by saining your home.

The first thing to do for Hogmanay is to clean the house from top to bottom, sweeping out the fireplace and clearing the home of bad energy, unwanted hangers-on, and burdens of the past year. It was also traditional to pay off any outstanding debts on the last day of the year.

After the home is thoroughly cleaned an early morning saining occurs on New Year Eve day. Saining is the ancient custom of blessing, protecting, and consecrating.

The dwelling is sained by drinking magical water from a river ford crossed by both the living and the dead and sprinkling it over the home's contents. The water was also sprinkled over the livestock. (You can also use moon water).

The women of the house burned Juniper branches inside the home to fill it with cleansing smoke and drive the evil spirits away. They were also burnt in the cattle byre, and the animals were marked with ash or tar.

After the house was filled with smoke, the doors and windows were flung open, and the family drank a restorative whiskey poured by the woman of the house.

Read our article on Growing and Using White Sage for Smudging

Then they sat down to a grand New Year breakfast. Toasted oatmeal with berries and cream is a popular breakfast along with shortbread.

Later in the day you might enjoy traditional Scottish foods of tatties and neeps, haggis pudding, or cock-a-leekie soup.

 New Years Eve

In the early days of Hogmanay, New Year's Eve was called the night of the candle or night of blows in the Scottish Highlands. A young man wearing a dry cowhide over his head would lead a procession around the village while being rained with blows from switches by the other men.

(We don’t recommend switching anyone!)

Bagpipes were played. The group moved around each house deosil, banging on the walls and reciting rhymes to raise the inhabitants.

When the doors opened, the men piled into the house, where they were given gifts of bannocks, bread, cheese, sweets, meat, and whiskey. The leader of the procession would give the householder a stick wrapped with the skin from the breast of a sheep called a caisein-uchd.

The skin of this "sheep candle" was dipped in tallow, held to the fire in the hearth and lit, then passed around each family member's head three times. It was believed that this would protect the household for the coming year.

The drinking of whiskey usually followed the practice. After a departing blessing on the home, the group then proceeded to the next house and repeated the ritual.




First-footing is a custom to ensure good luck for the household in the new year. The person who first crosses the threshold into the home after midnight should be a dark and handsome man bringing a chunk of coal, salt, a black bun, shortbread, and whiskey.


The coal symbolizes the warmth of the hearth, while the salt, food, and whiskey represent good food and hospitality.


The first footer must not enter the house until after midnight, so it should not be one of those already gathered.

If the first footer was an old woman come to ask for more kindling for her fire, this was considered terrible luck. She symbolized the Cailleach, an ancient hag or crone associated with storms and icy winds of winter. She typically had one eye, and her skin was deathly pale.


The Cailleach was similar to the crone form of the goddess in Wicca, and in the spring, she would become a young woman again. She held a magic rod or hammer in her right hand that changed the grass to ice and could be a herald of war.

In the spring, she becomes angry and throws her hammer beneath a holly tree before disappearing. This is why no grass grows under holly trees.

 Speaking of holly, during Hogmanay, doorways of homes would also be decorated with sprigs of holly to keep the fairies out.


The Fires of Hogmanay


Fire plays a significant role in Hogmanay celebrations even today. There is an annual torchlight procession in Edinburgh, with thousands marching through the city center with torches ablaze. In Scotland, the first and second of January are public holidays.


In the Scottish town of Stonehaven, there is a fireballs festival. On the stroke of midnight, a procession of residents, led by pipers playing bagpipes, swing flaming baskets as they march through the town.

They proceed to the harbor, where the fireballs are thrown into the sea. This brings good luck to the fishermen.

Ceilidheans or parties during Hogmanay involve folk dancing, the bagpipes, plenty of food and drink, and all-around merriment. Party games are often played.

Catalan Sun Goddess from the Hogmanay Street Party, Edinburgh 2005. Photo by Stuart Yeates

Catalan Sun Goddess from the Hogmanay Street Party, Edinburgh 2005. Photo by Stuart Yeates


History of Hogmanay


Originally Hogmanay was part of the harvest festival Samhain, but it is believed to move to the Yule festival by the invading Norsemen or Vikings. It is believed that the celebration of Hogmanay goes back to the eighth century when the Vikings invaded Scotland. Hogmanay begins when the bells toll midnight on 31 December.

Read our article about Celebrating Yule!

The Scandinavian word for the feast before Yule was "Hoggo-nott," which is similar to Hogmanay. However, some say the word comes from the Scots Gaelic "oge maidne," meaning "new morning". It was traditional to give gifts on the last day of the year.

 The early church recorded that some plebians in the south of Scotland go door to door on New Year's Eve shouting "Hagmane". For the Norsemen, it was important to celebrate the winter solstice.

The Presbyterian Church, the official church of Scotland, disapproved of Christmas for centuries. Somewhat surprisingly, the pagan holiday of Hogmanay celebrating the New Year was still allowed, although with some puritanical disapproval.

Hogmanay was the main festival of the Scots for hundreds of years.

 The Tradition of Singing Auld Lang Syne

The poet Robert Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne in 1788, and it is now traditionally sung at Hogmanay. The words "Auld Lang Syne" are translated as "old long since" or "time long past" but are generally understood to mean for old time's sake.

It's about a toast to friendship and the nostalgic memory of past adventures.  

Nowadays, throughout the western world, people celebrating the New Year link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne, however, the Scots give themselves so completely over to the revels of Hogmanay for three days of fun feasting and warm hospitality.

Take Away


Hogmanay has a long history among the Scottish people and is generally a time of good cheer, fun, goodwill, fires, and all-night partying.

Many pagans who follow this tradition celebrate it from wherever they are around the world. It is truly a warm-hearted and good-spirited celebration of friendship and goodwill fitting for welcoming in the New Year.