The Scots did not really have a Christmas holiday to celebrate from about the end of the 17 century until the 1950s due to the Protestant Reformation and Christmas being seen as “a popish feast” by the English Crown, at least when it was banned in the 1600s. Scots growing up in the 1940s confirm that Christmas was not a part of their family’s custom. Their midwinter celebration became the wild and raucous Hogmanay, December 31st to January 1st or 2nd.
As with many European winter ritual customs, fire plays a big part in celebrating Hogmanay. Our ancestors used enormous bonfires on festival days throughout the year to honor the sun or call it back in mid-winter. Today at Hogmanay, in addition to bonfires, huge pyrotechnic shows, fireworks, spinning fireballs, and torched tar barrels are part of the festivities in various town and cities in Scotland.
In our own lives, using fire at this time of the year to call forth the light and passion within each of us to come forth in new expressions in the New Year is so satisfying. A candle or a fire in the fireplace with some spoken commitments links us to our ancestors in the New Year.
Hogmanay became the Scots gift-giving holiday, in place of Christmas. Families and neighbors gave and received gifts at this time of year. Much visiting of homes with food and spirits offered within is, and has been, a companionable custom of Hogmanay. Singing of Auld Lang Syne with a complex linking of arms happens after the fire revelry.
Never do I sing, nor witness the singing of Auld Lang Syne, without seeing most folks weeping. This song, sung in a language we do not understand, by people who may or may not have Scottish blood in their veins, tugs at a heart space within us that loves friendship and longs to serve it. In this cold season, let yourself be warmed by the love of friends.
Signals the Year’s Pattern
First footing is also a custom of Hogmanay. The belief is that if a tall, dark, handsome stranger comes to your door the first thing after midnight of the New Year, that you will have good luck. This probably has something to do with the anticipated bad fortune if a blond man comes to your door because in the past he was undoubtedly a marauding Viking.
The idea of first footing is that the first person who comes through your door indicates the character of your New Year. We could enlarge this idea and consciously choose what we admit through the front door with a little personal ritual. Think about what you want to admit to your home this year. Is it love, prosperity, beauty? Go to the front door and with great intention – call it in!
All of life’s gifts are right there on your threshold. Happy New Year, everyone!
Scotland in the Spring, May 23 to June 1, 2015
Here is some of what you will experience:
· Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket, Rosslyn Chapel
· Glasgow, Melrose Abbey, witchy East Lothian and the Borders
· St. Andrews and the east coast with puffin colonies
· Blair Castle and stories of Bonnie Prince Charley, the Jacobites and Culloden
· Ancient loch dwellings and stone circles
· Storytelling at its finest within a small group of travelers
INFORMATION ON OTHER TRIPS