Nothing beats New Year’s Eve. Ushering in the New Year means a fresh start and an influx of resolutions – but before that come the festivities. Here’s why you should ring in the New Year in style with Scotland’s Hogmanay celebrations.
A tried and true staple of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is its spectacular street party. Each year, the main streets of Scotland’s capital say so-long to traffic and hello to thousands of party-goers from all corners of the globe. If you’re planning on celebrating on the main thoroughfare of Prince’s Street, make sure you get there early to beat the crowds and wrap up warm. Your fortitude will be rewarded with multiple stages hosting world-class musical acts, performers of all kinds, food, drink and an extravaganza of fireworks.
Along with the famous street party, Edinburgh hosts the Concert in the Gardens every Hogmanay. Each year, different acts – from big-name pop stars to folk musicians, rock stars and traditional Scottish players – take to the stage in Princes Street Gardens with what can only be described as an epic outdoor race. Put on your dancing shoes and prepare to start the New Year on a high note.
To those unaccustomed with the Scottish dance ways, attending a ceilidh may seem a tad intimidating – but there’s nothing like letting go of all inhibitions in a wild jig of Strip The Willow with all your mates. Dances range from casual village-hall ceilidhs and formal affairs in fancy hotels, to the fanciest of ceilidhs held in castles. Don’t worry about not knowing the steps – there’s always a caller shouting out instructions to the dancers, and messing up is part of the fun. There’s nothing like experiencing a true Scottish ceilidh with all the bells and whistles, especially on Hogmanay.
Although the sobering words of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ resonate throughout the world at midnight every New Year’s Eve, there’s something extra special (and humbling) about singing it in the land in which it was created – ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is one of Scottish poet Rabbie Burns’ many masterpieces. Top tip – you only cross arms in the last verse, and there’s a part where you run in and out of the circle at full speed. Things may get a little rowdy, but nothing screams solidarity among strangers and friends like linking arms and embracing this Scottish New Year’s tradition.
The aim of the first-footing custom is to be the ‘first foot’ across the threshold of your nearest and dearest’s home, starting anytime after midnight on Hogmanay. Traditionally speaking, people preferred dark-haired men to arrive first, as it’s believed to bring good luck for the coming year. Fair-haired people weren’t as encouraged after Viking invasion times. However, nowadays all are welcome – so long as you bring a gift (it’s bad luck not to). Popular gifts include shortbread, the traditional Hogmanay food of black buns, whisky for toasts and coal for warmth. Nowadays, Scots are known to improvise – any gift goes, really!
Forget the New Year’s Eve kiss, and head to Stonehaven to experience the most unforgettable moment of your year. Every Hogmanay, a parade of kilted men and women march through the main street of this fishing village at the moment the clocks strike midnight – swinging great big fireballs around their heads. This age-old tradition stems from a 19th-century fisherman’s festival; however, its roots predate Christianity. Thankfully for onlookers, these mighty fireballs are contained in cages for safety purposes and are stuffed with things like old jeans, newspapers and cardboard. It’s believed that the ceremony wards off evil spirts for the New Year.
Edinburgh’s Torchlight Procession may be a relatively new Hogmanay tradition, but it has its roots in ancient times. Scottish fire festivals such as Shetland’s Up Helly Aa and Beltane have used the flames to drive out the winter darkness, and on New Year’s Eve, around 20,000 people carrying flaming torches illuminate Edinburgh’s city centre. This family-friendly procession marks the start of the Hogmanay festivities.
Bells, whistles, and swinging fireballs aside, it’s ultimately the people that make or break an occasion. Whether stranger, acquaintance, family or friend, all those visiting Scotland for Hogmanay are guaranteed a warm welcome. Whether you’re fumbling your way through a ceilidh dance, sipping a dram of whisky, or linking arms for a rousing rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, you’ll be greeted with friendship, acceptance and traditional Scottish hospitality.