Thursday, January 5, 2006

Due South
By Mark Entwistle
The Southern Reporter
Selkirk, The Borders

To our friends, ‘Guid new year tae ane an’ a’

We Scots have always been a superstitious race.

And that is even more true at the beginning of a new year. Many of the old traditions to do with marking the new year have died out, but others - including some from pre-Christian pagan times - have lasted and remain an integral part of our celebrations.

We even have our own name for it - ‘Hogmanay’. There are many theories about the origins of the word . The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was ‘Hoggo-nott’ while the Flemish words “hoog min dag” means “great love day.”

Hogmanay can also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, ‘Haleg monath’ - Holy Month - or the Gaelic, ‘oge maidne’, which translates as ‘new morning’.

Up until the 1950s, New Year was a more important festival than Christmas in Scotland. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and therefore their mid-winter holiday was at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and to exchange gifts, especially for the children, which came to be called ‘hogmanays’.

The last day of the year was traditionally regarded as a time of getting ready to welcome in a fresh year. This took the form of houses being thoroughly cleaned (known as ‘redding’). Fireplaces were swept out and it was believed the ashes of the last fire of the old year could show what lay ahead in the future.

One custom still observed, although perhaps not as frequently nowadays, is ‘first footing’. Shortly after ‘the bells’ - the time when public clocks chime on the stroke of midnight on December 31 to signal the start of the new year - neighbours would visit one another’s houses and wish each other a good new year.

This is called ‘first footing,’ and the luckiest first-foot into any house was a tall, dark and handsome man bearing symbolic gifts in the shape of a lump of coal for the fire, to ensure that the house would be warm and safe, and shortbread or black bun (a sort of fruitcake) to symbolise that the household would never go hungry that year.

It is believed a tall dark stranger was regarded as lucky, because in the times of the Vikings, the unannounced arrival of a tall blond stranger usually meant trouble!

First-footing has faded in recent years, particularly with the growth of the major street celebrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Other Hogmanay traditions that have survived include the singing of Robert Burns’ song “Auld Lang Syne” and the making of new year resolutions. There are also certain parts of Scotland where torch and bonfire ceremonies are held.

But one custom which is common throughout the world is the wishing of good luck for the new year.

And so, the staff and readers of The Southern Reporter, would like to wish all our friends in Holly Springs a ‘guid new year tae ane an’ a’.

(That’s Scots and translates as a “good new year to one and all.” It comes from another old Scottish song also traditionally sung at New Year.)

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