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The History of Hogmanay


Scots are known for throwing a great party so it’s no surprise New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s known in Scotland, is such an important day! Historically, Scots have focused more on Hogmanay than we have on Christmas, but why? In this blog, we’re looking into the history of Hogmanay in Scotland, Hogmanay traditions and why there aren’t as many Scottish Christmas traditions in comparison. 


Hogmanay is New Year’s Eve in Scotland. Hogmanay and its many traditions takes inspiration from the Nordic celebration of the shortest day, the Winter Solstice, and the ancient Gaelic celebration of Samhain. Hogmanay was the time of year when families would get together, have a party and exchange gifts, instead of Christmas. Hogmanay was prioritised over Christmas in Scotland because, for a long time, Christmas was banned in Scotland…


Up until the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, Christmas was celebrated in Scotland as it was in many countries. In fact, many of the classic Christmas traditions we know today originated in Celtic and Scottish society. “Yule” is a Scots word that comes from Old Norse and means the winter solstice festivities that took place from before Christmas Day all the way through until after New Year. Celtic Pagan traditions even included the burning of the Yule log, decorating an evergreen tree and kissing under the mistletoe!

However, during the Scottish Reformation, Christmas was banned. From 1640, Christmas was officially banned and any Scot who still wished to celebrate Christmas risked imprisonment. Such was the strictness of the ban, bakers were encouraged to inform the government of any customers who placed orders for any Christmas foods such as Mince Pies. Although the ban was officially revoked in 1712, it was still fairly frowned upon in Scotland to celebrate Christmas due to the extent of the changes Scotland had underwent during the Scottish Reformation. Christmas did not become an official public holiday in Scotland until 1958. So, this year will only be 61st official Christmas in Scotland since 1640!

For many Scots, Christmas Day was just another day and work continued as normal. The banning of Christmas led to New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay, having more of an emphasis placed on it. Scots couldn’t celebrate Christmas but they sure could celebrate the end of the old year and so, this is when Scots exchanged presents, attended parties and feasted. This is why Scotland has so many Hogmanay traditions!



Possibly the most famous and popular of Scottish Hogmanay traditions is the singing at midnight of  “Auld Lang Syne”. Published in 1788 by Robert Burns, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung to bid farewell to the Old Year and say hello to the New Year. At parties throughout the world, on the stroke of midnight, partygoers link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne “for the sake of old times”. 


Whilst most people might be recovering in bed on New Year’s morning with a bad hangover, hundreds of Scots are braving the cold at Queensferry near Edinburgh to take part in the Loony Dook. Initially started as a way to quickly cure a New Year’s hangover with a sharp wake-up call, the Loony Dook is now attended by hundreds of “Loonys”, who give up their New Year’s Day to take a “Dook”! 


One of the most common Hogmanay traditions is the tradition of “First Footing”. After the bells of midnight, it’s a tradition to visit family members, neighbours and friends to celebrate the New Year and “First Foot” them. “First Footing” is the tradition being the first person into a house for the New Year and to wish them luck by bringing gifts and symbols of luck. Traditionally, a tall, dark-haired male would bring the most luck and would bring Shortbread, Whisky and Coal as gifts. It’s believed that the dark-haired male bringing luck was a nod to the Viking Days when a blonde Viking stranger arriving at your door in Scotland would be seen as bad luck and, generally, pretty big trouble for the home-owner. 


Scotland’s version of the Spring Clean, “Redding the House” is a Hogmanay tradition to prepare your house for the New Year. “Redding the House” is when Scots would thoroughly clean their house in preparation for the New Year and to be ready for the fresh start! It’s also said that to have a truly fresh start for the new year, Scots would also pay off all of their debts. 


Are you attending a New Year’s Party or Ceilidh this year? Make sure your kilt outfit looks spot on with the help of our new video guides! Double-check you’re wearing your kilt correctly with our “How To Wear a Kilt” guide

Or, if you’re planning on hiring a kilt for a Ceilidh, find out the MacGregor and MacDuff Hire Process.