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Top 5 Hogmanay Traditions

Top 5 Hogmanay Traditions

Hogmanay Traditions


New Year may be a celebrated and familiar day around the world. However, the Scots have their own rich and honored tradition with the day. They call it Hogmanay.

The origins of the name Hogmanay remain mysterious. Many believe it derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Haleg monath’ meaning ‘Holy Month’. However, a fair few people believe it’s origins to come from the French phrase ‘Homme est né’ which means ‘Man is Born’. Additionally, a considerable amount of people believe it to have sprouted from the Flemish words ‘Hoog min dag’ which translates to ‘Great love day’.

In conclusion, there is no official pin-pointed origin to the word. So, take your pick.

Hogmanay as an event is easier to track the origins of. However, historians still don’t have a set-in-stone parentage of the Scottish celebration. The most widely accepted story is that it developed from the Norse celebration of the winter solstice. Hogmanay is also believed to have incorporated customs of Samhain, the Gaelic celebration. And, Yule, which was an event celebrated by The Vikings which later became the “Daft Days” (in Scotland). For the rest of the world it became The Twelve Days of Christmas.

A long time ago, In Scotland, Christmas was not celebrated. Hogmanay was the festive celebration. It’s not clear why Christmas was not celebrated. Although, it is considered to have been a result of the Protestant Reformation. Christmas was seen as “too Papist” after that. Fun bunch, I know.


Anyhow. Here are 5 of the most popular Hogmanay traditions (in no particular order) for you to learn about and maybe, if you like whiskey, even introduce them into your own celebrations (again, that reference will become clear once you read).

Hogmanay Redding The House

Redding the House

Similar to the an annual spring cleaning that some communities have taken has a tradition, or the ritual cleaning of the kitchen for Passover, Scottish families also undertook a tradition of a major cleanup to ready the house for the New Year. They did something else too, while sweeping out the fireplace, getting rid of all the ash that had spattered out of the necessary flames during the harsh cold months of November and December. They read the ashes, hoping it would foretell what was to come in the year ahead. This was a very important practice and there was a skill in reading the ashes, the way some people read tea leaves.

Hogmanay First Footing

First Footing

After the hazy stroke of midnight, neighbors would meet and greet each other, bearing traditional Scottish gifts such as shortbread or black bun (a kind of fruit cake). However, in turn, the visitor is offered a politely small whisky. So, if you had plenty of friends and visited each of their homes to wish them a happy new year. You would likely be offered a great deal of whiskey to which most Scots would say ‘Guy Braw’ which means ‘Very Good’. Additionally, the first person to enter and make the first foot inside the house in the New Year, could bring luck for the New Year. I’m not too sure how much luck a balance-lacking-whiskey-influenced first foot would bring.

Hogmanay Fire Festivals

Bonfires and Fire Festivals

The possibility of a Viking and pagan influence over Hogmanay introduces itself again. This time in Scotland’s fire festivals. The fires usually happen on Hogmanay itself and once again in late January. The use of fire was an attempt to purify and drive away evil spirits. Which we all know, is something Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular is in dire need of. The fire festivals and bonfires have always been at the center of the celebrations in Scottish towns such as Stonehaven, Comrie and Biggar. However, it has only recently become an element in Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration.

Hogmanay Auld Lang Syne

The Singing of Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns’ version of a traditional Scottish air. Is sang over the world. How it became the New Year’s song is something that like a lot of Hogmanay, remains somewhat of a mystery. At the famous ‘Edinburgh’s Hogmanay’ celebrations, people come together, they join hands, and they sing. They sing what is reputed to be the biggest Auld Lang Syne in the world. Impressive, right?

Hogmanay Saining The House

The Saining of the House

This is a very old, very rural, and perhaps the strangest of the Hogmanay traditions. It involved blessing the house and livestock with holy water from a local stream. This tradition saw a huge drop and had nearly died out. However, in recent years it has experienced a remarkable and unusual revival. Once the house and livestock have been blessed, The woman of the house would go around each room of the house with a blazing juniper branch. The idea of this, was to fill the house with purifying smoke. Now, with all this smoke flowing through the rooms of the house. The occupants started to cough and choke on the smoke so the windows would be flung open and of course, a few drams of whiskey are passed around. This is Scotland after all.

If you are hoping to celebrate Hogmanay, make sure you stock up on whiskey. Or perhaps you just want a few drams for yourself. In which case, we offer some great whiskey tasting. Happy new year and enjoy trying out some of these strange Hogmanay traditions.


Old Waverly Hotel | Cranstons Restaurant
Old Waverley Hotel | Princes Street

Old Waverley Hotel: Due to its perfect location on Edinburgh’s Princes Street. You will have views of the fireworks, light shows and the European Market. This traditional hotel is in walking distance from all the main Edinburgh landmarks and George St. You’ll be in the center of all the great Hogmanay Celebrations.

The Howard | Room
The Howard | Great King Sreet.

The Howard: A luxurious 5-star hotel in Edinburgh’s new town. Just a short walk from Princes Street and all the main Hogmanay attractions. You will be able to enjoy valet parking and a unique butler service. If you are wanting to spend your Edinburgh Hogmanay in luxury then The Howard is the perfect Hotel for you.

Channings | Bathroom
Channings Hotel | South Learmonth Gardens

Channings: Voted Edinburgh’s most romantic hotel. If you are wanting to have a grand and lavish stay in Edinburgh’s new town then Channing’s Hotel is perfect for you.

Holyrood ApartHotel | Apartments
Holyrood ApartHotel | Holyrood

Holyrood ApartHotel: This modern apartment hotel is an easy 1-minute walk from the Royal Mile. It’s also a 4-minute walk from Holyrood Park. These serviced apartment are a perfect home away from home. Perfect for families and business professionals.