THE ORIGINS AND PRACTICE OF
Hogmanay was first recorded in 1604 in
the Elgin Records as hagmonay (delatit to
haue been singand hagmonayis on
Satirday); and again in 1692 in an entry
of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, "It
is ordinary among some plebeians in the
South of Scotland to go about from door
To door upon New-years Eve, crying
The etymology of hogmanay remains
obscure and may arise from a French,
Norse or a Goidelic (Insular Celtic) root.
The Festival of the Dead
In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st
November and was called Samhain.
This was an unreal time, when one year turned
into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the
dead and those not yet born walked freely among
It was a time of plenty as the stocks were
returned from the hills before the severe winter
ahead and a great time for kinship as the hill
dwellers came to the gathering.
Remnants of the Festival of the Dead are found
throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world and last
from Halloween to New Year.
When Lun the Sun God was defeated by
his darker side he became the Lord of
Good people needed the comfort of
their own kind and protection from the
Evil forces of the dark.
Much of the sacred symbolism of
Samhaimn can be found in the
customs of Halloween and Hogmanay.
Lord of Misrule or the Ghost of
In the New Year many cultures believed
the first foot to cross the threshold
brought the house good fortune for the
Suspicious people refused to leave their
home until they were first footed.
"First footing" is a Celtic custom and
tradition demands the first person after the
bells to enter the house must be a sonsy
(trustworthy); a stranger of dark complexion;
and carry a luck talisman.
A person with fair complexion
brought bad luck.
Bearing gifts as a good luck charm for the
year ahead is an old Viking custom.
In Scotland this involved:
Black Bun ( a pastry covered rich current
a wassail (hot toddy) to represent food and
sustenance for the coming year.
Combined with coal to symbolized good
luck and prosperity.
In the Isle of Man (UK) a good
first footer was a man of handsome
appearance and dark complexion
with in-steps high enough to allow a
mouse to run through.
The significance of the arched foot
remains unclear but early Christians
believed men were made in the
image of God and the Christian Foot
had a perfect arch.
Flat feet or splayed feet were considered the sign
of evil and unlucky omens
The Evil Foot
Functional feet were important to
the early Christians as walking
was the only means to spread
the Gospel. Subsequently well
formed feet became associated
with joy and happiness. Literature
abounds with reference to this.
Prior to modern medicine illness
and deformity were regarded as a
form of demonic possession.
After the Bells
The modern interpretation is after hearing the
New Year Bells , friends visit each other's
homes sharing goodwill and treating them to
The Celts held alcohol in very high esteem and
was an important part of ritual.
In the past first footing had practical purpose
which allowed everyone in the village to meet
the New Year with good cheer; and allow the
superstitious to leave their abode after being
In Scotland families gather on Ner’day
(New Year‘s Day) and feast like the
traditional Christmas Day.
This represents the modern “gathering of
the clans, ” and certain foods are thought
to bring good fortune for the New Year.
These include a thick Scotch broth: Steak
Pie; and a Clootie dumpling (a sweet
It is not uncommon in Celtic tradition to
have an extra place set at table for
Auld Lang Syne
Auld Lang Syne is a traditional
ayre given lyrics by Robert
Burns but was not traditionally
sang at Hogmanay until the 20th
century after it was played at
a New Year celebration in
The sentiment expressed is
perfect for the occasion and
has been associated ever since.