Fish trussed up in frocks, dodging burning balls of fire and dressing as a cow to be beaten by your neighbour – all weird customs that have helped Scotland take the crown as the home of the New Year celebrations.

Why many Scottish Hogmanay customs began are often lost in the mists of time – and some have long since died out, replaced by new ones.

After all, is it even New Year in Scotland if you haven't had a flashback to Rikki Fulton as the door Rev I.M. Jolly, or watched a re-run of Only an Excuse? 

Here’s why Scotland takes the New Year honours for weird and wonderful Hogmanay celebrations.

New Year is one of the few times when we’re actively encouraged to play with fire.

At Burghead on the shores of the Moray Firth, the new year doesn’t begin until a flaming ‘Clavie’ – a whisky barrel – is carried at shoulder height around the town.

On the way, smouldering wooden stakes are handed out to bring good luck for the coming year.

But it’s not a true Hogmanay tradition – the event takes place every January 11, a throwback to the 1750s when the new Gregorian calendar left people feeling they had somehow ‘lost’ 11 days.

Read more: How Scotland became the home of Hogmanay

While some rioted in outrage, Burghead’s ‘Brochers’ figured they’d enjoy two new year celebrations, on the ‘new’ January 1st and 11 days later.

The burning of the Clavie, however, is thought to be rooted in Pagan times.

The flaming Clavie is carried to Doorie Hill, refuelled and then allowed to burn out and fall down the hill.

As it disintegrates, locals pick over its smouldering embers as good luck charms.

A similar event in Dingwall involved a wooden crate full of inflammable material hauled up the High Street by lads dressed in an array of costumes, to the sound of whistles and drums before being set ablaze.

The downside was neighbouring houses in the narrow street were made of wood and at high risk of joining the Dingwall Crate as a pile of ash.

The tradition was halted around 100 years ago, while at Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, a similar fire celebration is now a  major tourist attraction.

Balls of wire stuffed with inflammable material up to 2ft in diameter are set alight and swung on long wires, chains or rope before being thrown into the harbour.

It's thought the ritual dates to pre-Christian times when flames were thought to ward off evil spirits and protect local fishermen.

It’s all about eating, drinking - and more eating and drinking

Food and drink often features in Hogmanay traditions: from St Andrews in Fife, where Hogmanay became known as ‘Cake Day’, with cakes were baked and handed out to local children, to Irn Bru for the morning after hangover.

At various towns and villages around Scotland, Hogmanay was a time for children to dress up and go ‘guising’ in return for treats.

Some believed cheese took on magical powers at Hogmanay, particularly if it had a hole through it. In some places, a slice would be preserved so if someone lost their way, they only had to look through the hole to know where they were.

One food, black bun, often only makes an appearance at New Year.

It can be traced to the days of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was intended to be eaten on Twelfth Night, when a bean would be hidden inside and the recipient made ‘king’ for the evening.

Often delivered by first footers, the idea is recipients would not go hungry during the year to come – indeed, there’s every chance the black bun might well still be on the sideboard the following Hogmanay, untouched.

Read more: Biggar: Historic Hogmanay Bonfire tradition saved

New Year is all about whisky for the bells and steak pie for the hangover. But among east coast fishing communities, it was also a chance to dress up a herring in a dress.

The custom began in the 19th century – at the peak of the herring fishing industry – when fish would be given as gifts to be hung up in homes.

In Dundee, herring would be attired in crepe skirt and bonnet, while children in Brechin and in some parts of Aberdeenshire carried kippers and smokies dressed as dolls during New Year’s Day visits.

It’s a chance to let off steam

Sport is found in many towns and villages’ Hogmanay traditions, often involving a degree of ‘good natured’ violence – not all linked to the traditional New Year’s Day Old Firm derby.

Orkney’s version of the beautiful game, The Kirkwall Ba, is thought to be rooted in the 11th century demise of the Earl of Orkney, Sigurd the Stout, who was driven into the sea during a bloody battle.

Involving the town’s Uppies and the Doonies, up to 350 men indulge in a mad scramble to reach either the sea or the ancient town gates, depending on the team.

A game of shinty is a traditional way to blow off the New Year cobwebs in the Highlands and Islands. One account of the last New Year shinty match on Iona in 1881 told how it was played out on the Machair; an epic battle which was likened to the plains of Troy.

In other places, it would be a game of ‘stocks’, when the hard stem of a Cabbage would be used as a stick, and the cabbage itself as a ball for an extreme, booze-fuelled game not unlike hockey but possibly involving more broken bones.

Not so much a sport – at least for the person at on the receiving end – was the Western Isles tradition that saw someone dress in a cow’s hide complete with horns and hooves, to visit neighbouring homes.

Once inside, they would run in a ‘sunwise’ direction while the occupants of the house would hit them with sticks.

There’s a lot of cleaning…

For many Scots, Hogmanay and New Year are all about tidying the house – known as ‘redding’ – and first footing.

Traditionally, the Hogmanay tidying up would involve sprinkling water in each room and all the inhabitants – if no water was handy, urine would do.

Juniper would be set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre to cleanse rooms of germs and disease.

With everyone sneezing and coughing from the smoke, the doors and windows would be flung open to let the fresh air – and the new year – enter.

Holly also made an appearance; hung in the home to keep fairies away and to whip boys, with each drop of blood said to signify how long they would live.

Rowan placed above the door brought luck, mistletoe was said to protect against illness and hazel and yew had magical powers that protected all in the house.

All was in vain, however, if the first foot wasn’t up to scratch.

First footing was unheard of prior to the turn of the 19th century. But once established, the demands on the first footer were specific: tall, dark haired but not a doctor, minister nor gravedigger.

They had to be law abiding, healthy and without deformity or handicap – even flat feet or a monobrow were deemed risky if you wanted new year to be in any way ‘guid’.

But… should a one-legged thief with Noel Gallagher eyebrows and medical degree step foot over the threshold, fear not! Simply fix a cross made of rowan twigs over the door make sure that before they enter or speak, the householder evokes the name of the Supreme Being three times.

Failing that, throw salt into the fire, or burn a piece of straw up the chimney.

Then, relax, pour a dram and have a happy new year.