Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hogmanay - Scottish New Year

   I just finished reading the last book in the "Outlanders" series.  I am sad to admit that this series has piqued a curiosity in me to discover my roots.  On my Dad's side I am as Canadian as you can get.  We come from fine hardy stalk, strong willed, strong backed pioneers and United Empire Loyalists I am quite proud to say.  On Mom's side I am first generation Canadian.  My Mom and her family made that huge trek across the ocean when she was only 5.  She began kindergarten with a thick accent that the teachers and other students had a hard time understanding.  Over the years her accent and her "Scottishness" have faded.  Many of the fast and firm traditions that she grew up with slowly were lost to her as she began her own family.  The traditions of her family were just what they did, and now that Nana's gone there is no one to ask.  Luckily for me, Facebook to the rescue.  Through Facebook I have had the privilege of getting to know my cousins who still live in Scotland, cousins who might otherwise have been lost to me.
    Growing up my Nana was a huge part of my life.  To me she was this big presence (it's true but also funny because she was not even 5 feet tall).  Nana taught us to be proud of our Scottish blood.  To be Scottish was to be proud.  We were decedents of Robert the Bruce, a Scottish king, that was something to be proud of.  When we would go and visit her she would have Scottish reels playing on her 8 track. The sound of the bag pipes to this day make me cry with pride in my heritage.

L-R My Mom, Great-Gran, Nana, cousin Heather on her lap,
Great Popa, and Aunt Jean on a visit to Scotland.
    New Year's Eve was a big deal to Nana.  She would go to my uncle's house to bring in the new year.  For nearly half an hour our phone would ring off of the hook with calls of good wishes for the New Year from our family.  Nana would come to our house for New Year's dinner.  My Dad would have to be the first one into Nana's apartment, there was no way on New Year's day I could go first.
    Growing up Mom said that they celebrated Christmas, but not the way we do.  To them New Years was the big celebration.  It was the one time of the year that my Nana and Popa took a celebratory drink.  They had friends over, it was a real celebration.  I don't think that Mom really knew why, she just knew that New Years was a BIG DEAL.
    As I said, I had never heard "Hogmanay" until I read "Outlander".  That got me asking questions.  Mom did not really know, she called her older brother, my Uncle Bruce.  He remembered what it was called.  I knew what I had to do... Facebook my cousin Patricia in Scotland.  Patricia that lovely lady knew the answers.  I hope that she doesn't mind, but I'm going to directly copy the email she sent to me.  To me it was absolutely fascinating, and it sounded lovely.

    During the day of Hogmanay the household would be busy cleaning so that the New Year could be welcomed into a tidy and neat house. It is considered ill luck to welcome in the New Year in a dirty uncleaned house. Fireplaces would be swept out and polished and some people would read the ashes of the very last fire of the year, to see what the New Year would hold. The act of cleaning the entire house was called the redding, ie getting ready for the New Year.
Pieces from a Rowan tree would be placed above a door to bring luck. In the house would be placed a piece of mistletoe, not for kissing under like at Christmas, but to prevent illness to the householders. Pieces of holly would be placed to keep out mischievous fairies and pieces of hazel and yew which were thought to have magical powers and would protect the house and the people who lived in it. Juniper would be burnt throughout the house, then all the doors of the home would be opened to bring in fresh air. The house was then considered ready to bring in the New Year.
Debts would be paid by New Year's Eve because it was considered bad luck to see in a new year with a debt.
Any visitors who arrive before the chimes of midnight on New Year's Eve would have to be violently shooed away to prevent bad luck. At midnight the man of the house would open the back door to let the old year out and then open the front door of the house to let in the new year. The household would also make as much noise as possible to scare off evil spirits. In harbours throughout Aberdeenshire, at Aberdeen Harbour and throughout the North East Sea fishermen and sailors will sound their horns and these sounds carry for miles.
New Year Bells
The first stroke of the chimes at New Year is known as The Bells. People would sing Auld Lang Syne together whilst linking arms. Read the words of Auld Lang Syne.
After the bells have rung people would go visiting friends and family, or first footing as it is known in Scotland. This would involve carrying a bottle of spirit such as whisky to offer people a new year dram. In olden days when people could only afford one bottle of spirit’s a year this bottle would take pride of place on the mantelpiece or by the fireplace and only opened at the stroke of midnight.
Hogmanay Toasts
As people wish each other a Happy New Year there are some hogmanay toasts that can be said. A traditional Scottish New Year toast is:
Lang may yer lum reek!
Which means long may your chimney smoke and originated when people had coal fires and if the chimney was smoking it meant that you could afford coal and keep warm.
Another New Year toast said by Scottish people is:
A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see"
Which translates to English from Scots as A good New Year to one and all, and many may you see.

    I have to admit I have fallen a little bit in love with this.  I will share more with you tomorrow, but in the mean while I am going to think about what of these traditions I can incorporate into our New Years.

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