New Year FireworksNew Year's Eve is a big celebration for millions of people all over the world, but it is a particularly big deal in Scotland where it is called Hogmanay. Festivities take place all over Scotland and last for three days, beginning at the end of December and ending on 2 January. Scottish people in fact have two days of holiday following the celebrations, unlike the rest of the UK, which just has one on New Year's Day.
 
The origins of Hogmanay reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Vikings with wild parties in late December. It is not known exactly where the word comes from, although it is believed to come from the French word 'hoginane' meaning 'gala day'. It is thought to have first been widely used following Mary, Queen of Scots' return to Scotland from France in 1561. The name could also come from the Anglo-Saxon 'haleg monath' meaning 'holy month'. Some say it could come from the Scandinavian 'hoggo-nott' meaning 'yule', although the most likely source seems to be French. In Normandy, presents given at Hogmanay were 'hoguignetes'.
 
Viking Hogmanay
 
The big Hogmanay celebrations date back to pagan times when people used to mark the end of the harvest and the end of the year with a festival called Samhain. Later, this became a midwinter yule festival, which continued when Catholicism became the nation's main religion. The period of celebrations became known as the 'daft days' with people eating and drinking lots, enjoying parties and bonfires, and visiting and hosting neighbours.
 
But in 1560, there were a lot of arguments about how the Christian religion should be practiced in a period known as the Reformation. People bringing in religious changes did not approve of all the partying and they banned or strongly discouraged feasts that were associated with Catholicism, including Christ's Mass - that is, Christmas.
 
By 1640, an Act of Parliament had officially banned the Christmas break, so it is believed that this is what pushed all the partying and fun to New Year instead.
 
Even though this Act was partially withdrawn in the late 1600´s, new year remained the big moment for celebrating in Scotland. It was only in 1958 that Christmas became a public holiday in Scotland - later than the rest of the UK.
 
First Footing
First footing is a traditional part of the Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland, although it does not happen as much today as it used to. First footing is when you visit friends or family immediately after midnight in order to become the first person to visit them and go into their house in the new year.
 
Your very first foot - the first person to visit you in the new year - should traditionally be a tall, dark-haired man. That is said to date back to the Viking invasions, as Vikings were typically fairer haired, so the arrival of a blonde man could have meant imminent danger! It could also have roots in pagan traditions of marking the arrival of the dark half of the year and interacting with the mysterious realm of darkness and spirits, and appeasing them with food and hospitality.
 
Black bun, a dark rye bread is traditionally given as a first footing gift to ensure that the people living in the house you are visiting do not go hungry in the year ahead. First footers also traditionally bring a lump of coal to ensure the house remains warm in the coming months. With saving the environment and reducing pollution at the forefront of everybody's mind, the lump of coal will surely be replaced by a hand-full of re-chargeable batteries!!!!!
 
Ahead of the new year, it is also traditional for people to clean their house and remove any old ashes in the fire. This symbolises the clearing out of the old year to welcome in the new one.
 
 Auld Lang Syne
Auld Lang Syne is often sung after the bell has struck midnight on New Year's Eve, as the new year begins. But not many people realise that traditionally you should not link arms until the final verse when the lyrics are"And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!"  The words to Auld Lang Syne were first written by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns.
 
Robert Burns