About This Festival
Forget sitting in front of the TV and watching the ball drop in Times Square—the best New Year’s party is happening at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (pronounced “hug-meh-nay”). From December 31st through January 1st, tradition sends many Scots to clean their houses and settle debts, all in the name of getting a fresh start. When night falls, however, the Hogmanay celebration is in full swing with fireworks, parades and performances, all with a Scottish twist.
Today’s secular celebration has a happy, friendly note, which attendees take to heart; friends and strangers share hugs and the occasional kiss, and in rural areas people open their homes to strangers to share a meal in a tradition known as First Footing.
Hogmanay - What’s in a Name?
Sorry to break it to you, but the name Hogmanay has nothing to do with hogs or hugs (though showing affection is definitely part of the celebration). Its likely root is in the French word aguillanneuf, which means a gift given on New Year’s Day. There are various theories about the roots of today’s festival. One places the origins in the pagan festivities of Samhain (pronounced “sah-when”), but it’s more likely that the festival was inherited from the Vikings, who celebrated the shortest day of the year and were practically neighbors to the earliest Scots. The celebration went underground during the Protestant Reformation and reemerged in the 17th century.
Today’s secular celebration has a happy, friendly note, which attendees take to heart; friends and strangers share hugs and the occasional kiss, and in rural areas people open their homes to strangers to share a meal in a tradition known as First Footing. Per its pagan roots, Hogmanay attendees carry torches through the city streets to symbolize the use of fire to ward off evil spirits. In some parts of Scotland, massive 20-pound fireballs are swung around on metal poles by 60 or so very brave men in a breathtaking spectacle.
Whether in Edinburgh or elsewhere in Scotland, there’s one thing that nearly all Hogmanay celebrations share: the singing of Robert Burns’ classic New Year’s song-poem Auld Lang Syne. Revelers sing with arms linked, as they song instructs, and while celebrations might be as large as 12,000 people, this tradition is part of what makes the festival feel intimate. Like New Year’s celebrations around the world, the night ends with a spectacular fireworks display.
Like any good party, Hogmanay's celebrations and traditions get started early and end late. Beginning on December 30th, you’ll find discos, concerts and a family-friendly Ferris wheel. And since January 2nd is a Scottish bank holiday, there’s no reason the celebration has to stop at midnight.