By Sandra McHugh
The Scots call the New Year’s Eve celebration Hogmanay.1 Hogmanay is part of my family’s history.
My grandfather, Thomas McHugh, came to Canada from Scotland with his family in 1912. The family maintained the Scottish traditions and they celebrated Hogmanay. My father, Edward McHugh, was usually the “first-footer.” This means that he was the first one to step across the threshold after midnight, bearing gifts. Traditionally, to ensure good luck, the first-footer is a tall and dark haired male. Fair haired first-footers were not welcome, as it is believed that fair-haired first-footers were associated with the Viking invasions.2 My father brought gifts of coal and a herring, but some of the other traditional gifts include shortbread, a black bun, and whiskey to toast the new year.3
There are a few theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggonott. The Flemish words hoog min dag mean great love day. Some believe that the origin of the word Hogmanay can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon Haleg monath or Holy Month or the Gaelic words for new morning, oge maidne. Many believe that the source is French, homme est né for man is born. In France, the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged, was called aguillaneuf and in Normandy, this was called hoguignetes.4
Hogmanay is an important celebration in Scotland. It is believed that this festival was first brought to Scotland by the Vikings for whom the passing of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, was an event to be celebrated.5 The importance of Hogmanay took on an even greater significance because Christmas was banned in Scotland for about 400 years. A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and observation thereof in time coming.”6 This Act of Parliament reflected the changing attitudes towards the Christmas Feast Days during the Reformation. Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day in 1974 .7
The partying and hospitality that goes on at Hogmanay is a way of wishing family, friends, and strangers a Guid New Year. The old is swept out, sometimes literally by giving the home a good cleaning, and by clearing up any debts before the bells ring at midnight.8
I wish you all a very Guid New Year.
One thought on “Hogmanay”
Thanks for the explanation. My grandmother used to listen McHugh singing on the radio when I was a boy. (I am now 84.) I was able, with difficulty, to drag the the singer”s name out of my memory, and I remember Grandma explaining what the “first footer” was.
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