Hogmanay. It’s an odd word and even the most esteemed historians are unsure of its true origins. However - every Scot discovers the significance of the word practically at birth, and anyone who’s ever set foot on Scottish soil or over Scottish threshold at this very special time of year will soon learn all they need to know.
In some parts of Scotland, Christmas has only become a major festival in relatively modern times. As recently as the 1950’s you’d find many families eschewing the whole Santa Claus malarkey, opting instead to concentrate all their efforts on the following week. On Hogmanay.
Some festivals dance about all over the calendar, their timing depending on such vagaries as the cycles of the moon. Hogmanay however will forever be December 31 - a date set in stone - or perhaps that should really be coal since the black stuff plays a major role in the festivities.
It is a time to reminisce, a time for nostalgia, a time for a little mellow melancholy as we gaze back over the year just gone and consider all that happened in its days.
It’s also a time for celebration, revelry, madcap and mayhem as we welcome the New Year in. And if Christmas is typically decorated in tinsel and fairy lights, Hogmanay needs no such artifice, for it is festooned in tradition.
The first person to set foot over your threshold after the first midnight chime must be tall, dark and preferably handsome. And - my sincere apologies to feminist sensibilities (of which I hold many), but this is a deeply and unashamedly sexist time of year. The tall, dark, handsome one will be forgiven for not fulfilling one, two, or even all three of the above requirements, but must, must, abso-bally-lutely MUST be male.
Furthermore - the said First Foot must not arrive at the door empty-handed. He should bring a coin, bread, salt, coal and a bottle of whisky, gifts representing prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer.
And one more thing - before allowing the First Foot to come in and share the warmth of the family gathering, you must enquire as to his career status. Certain occupations are deemed unlucky - the list includes gravediggers, which is perhaps understandable but doctors and ministers of the church are also regarded as omens of bad luck. Or maybe party-goers of earlier generations simply felt gentlemen of those particular professions might spoil their fun so opted to leave them out in the cold!
Writers over the years have seen Scotland as a wonderful setting for stories, rich in culture, heritage, beautiful landscapes and fascinating characters. Maybe that little taste of Hogmanay might just inspire a few more storylines - I do hope so. But in any case, may I wish you all a very Happy Hogmanay - and as we also say in Scotland - Lang may yer lum reek!
Gilly Fraser has just released a book Forbidden Love & Other Stories
So Gilly Fraser has announced that she will be giving away one eCopy of her Forbidden Love and Other Stories to one commenter!