THE eyes of the world turn toward Scotland every December 31, but how did the country earn its reputation as the home of the biggest New Year’s party on the planet?

It's because Christmas was banned?

With the Reformation, feasts associated with Catholicism – including Christmas – were disapproved of and ultimately banned by introduction of the 1640 Act of Parliament. Reports from the time suggest some people were even arrested over unlawful celebrations during the period. And as people worked through to the end of December, their main holiday to mark the winter solstice passing became New Year.

So Scots celebrated in style?

As the only mid-winter celebration, the focus was on celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, with family and friends gathering for a party and exchange of gifts and even when the Act was partially withdrawn in the late 17th century, Scots still focused on New Year.


It is thought by some historians that the Scots word for the last day of the year has its roots in the French language, as in Normandy, gifts given at the close of the year were called “hoguignetes”, while “hoginane” means gala day. The term “Hogmanay” is said to have come into common use when Mary, Queen of Scots, returned to Scotland from France in 1561.


There are a raft of them, from cleaning the house from top to toe and doing all the laundry, to clearing your debts before the bells chime, all in a bid to clear out the old and welcome in the new.

First footing?

In a bid to ensure good luck to your house, the “first foot” to step inside after midnight should traditionally be a tall male, with dark hair – which is thought to relate to the Viking invasions when the arrival of a fair-haired fellow on your doorstep could mean trouble, as Vikings were typically fair-headed. They are also expected to bring a symbolic gift, such as black bun or coal; black bun to ensure the people of the house do not go hungry in the year ahead and coal to keep the house warm.

Torchlight processions?

Some historians believe Hogmanay has its roots in a winter solstice festival held by the Vikings, for whom the passing of the shortest day was celebratory. These Viking traditions involved fire – torchlight processions or bonfires – as fire was considered a symbol of new beginnings.

Auld Lang Syne?

It is traditional to sing the Robert Burns song immediately after midnight in many English-speaking countries around the world, with the words offering a reminder to remember long-standing friendships and reflect on memories at the close of the year. Everyone is supposed to join hands with the person next to them while singing and at the beginning of the final verse, they should cross their arms across their chest, so that their right hand reaches out to the person on the left and vice versa, joining hands in unity.