Scotland’s city centers bubbled with bundled-up revelers. Confetti and snowflakes mingled on shoulders, while fireworks crackled in anticipation. Back in our little Glaswegian flat, foil party hats, a cranked-up radiator and ceilidh music represented those last few exciting hours of Dec. 31st.
The Scottish New Year, or Hogmanay, is an ancient event pre-dating the Romans. Layered with passionate optimism, nostalgia and companionship, it’s so grand that local party goers get Jan. 1 and 2 off to recover.
Wherever you are when the calendar flips over, follow these good-luck traditions to guarantee a dash of Scottish-style magic all year through:
Read a little Robert Burns.
While Robbie earns special attention on his Jan. 25th birthday, the words of his most famous poem, Auld Lang Syne, echo across the world on Dec. 31st. Struggling to decipher that heavy Scots brogue? Just remember that Mr. Burn is reflecting on the illusive “once upon a time” we honor and remember tonight.
Pay off all debts.
$5 IOU or a library book; return anything that’s not yours to keep. While this plays into the “short pocket” stereotype of frugal Scots, it also frees you of any negative links to the past.
Eat everything but the shortbread.
Butter, butter and more butter make up this classic Scottish cookie – or biscuit, here. No one will begrudge you a flaky stick dipped into a steaming cup of tea, but be sure to set one piece aside for an important midnight ritual.
And don’t drink the whisky.
Ok, maybe just a little bit of whisky. Over 100 distilleries, and an intense pride in national flavor, makes this the unanimous choice for any Scottish holiday. Toast shot glasses with your friends (as the locals do) or savor a glass with one lonely ice cube. But don’t forget to keep a few drops in the bottle for midnight, too.
Last ingredient needed for midnight: a lump of coal. If you’re heating a home with more modern methods, then a handful of wood chips, match box or lighter will substitute. (Assuming those early Celts weren’t too hung up on the Hogmanay details).
Send someone out for the first footing.
As the clock counts down to 12:00 a.m., search out the tallest, darkest and most handsome person in the room. Hues of brown bring the most good fortune tonight – and it’s never wise to challenge centuries of superstition. The dashing volunteer will perform the first footing, a physical representation of luck. (Bonus points if they’re kitted out in proper Highland attire). Now hand them the shortbread, whisky and coal. Give them strict instructions to circle the house (or at least as far around as possible) and knock on the front door exactly at midnight.
Accept good fortune into your home for the next 365days.
Clocks and doorbells chime as the party rushes to the door. Outside, the new year awaits: maybe a bit soggy, maybe a bit groggy, precious gifts in hand. Shortbread, that you may never go hungry; whisky, that you may never go thirsty; and coal, that you may always be warm.
Hold off your toast until the first footer carefully steps over the threshold, marking the official start of the year.
Suddenly everyone knows the lyrics to that poignant rhyme, joining hands, kissing and proclaiming as loud as – well, a feisty Scotsman – “May auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for the days of auld lang syne…”
What traditions bring you magic on New Year’s Eve?