You would think that a tradition as universal as Christmas would be welcomed with open arms. Not so in Scotland! During the time of the Reformation (1560's), the Christmas celebration was banned in Scotland. But the Scots, bless 'em all, created the feast of Hogmanay as a reason to party and more or less recognize the existence of Christmas without really telling anyone. The roots of Hogmanay as the Edinburgh New Year date back to Scotland's pagan past. And believe it or not, Christmas didn't become a public holiday in Scotland until the 1970's!
Well, while the rest of the world (or at least many parts of it) were celebrating Christmas and New years with presents and a countdown of one year transitioning into another, the Edinburgh New year enjoys its own tradition known as "First-Footing". Just like it sounds, the "first foot" is the first person to enter a house in the New Year in Edinburgh. So, the first person to cross the threshold of a front door just after midnight will bring good luck to the entire family in the new year in Edinburgh. This Edinburgh New Year tradition sees many Scot families opening their front doors to friends or strangers. The first-footer is supposed to have a gift of some sort to present, and the family offers its appreciation by offering up a shot of whiskey and a piece of fruit cake.
The Edinburgh New Year is also famous for its fireworks display and torchlight procession through the city of Edinburgh. This tradition too has its roots in the original Hogmanay celebration of so long ago, but the New Year in Scotland benefits from this pageantry even today.
The traditional Edinburgh New Year ceremony of years gone by would involve the locals dressing up in the skins of cattle and sheep and running around the village. The celebration would also include the lighting of bonfires, tossing torches and even rolling blazing barrels of tar down hillsides. Sound like one shot of Scot whiskey too many! Animal skins were also wrapped around a stick and lit on fire. The thick smoke that resulted was supposed to ward off evil spirits. And so, Hogmanay is famous now for its "smoking stick".
Some of these Edinburgh New Year customs continue to this day. Especially in the smaller, older, more remote communities located in and around the Islands of Scotland where the Gaelic language and tradition is still revered. The New Year in Scotland still sees some of this culture as even today, during the Edinburgh New Year, you'll find young boys forming bands and moving through their village and going door to door reciting Gaelic rhyme and verse. In return they receive fruit and pastries before moving on to the next house.
One of the most spectacular ceremonies that takes place during the Edinburgh New year is the Fire Ceremony of Stonehaven. Giant fireballs, some weighing as much as 20 pounds are lit and swung around on metal poles with a height as tall as five feet or more. The poles are carried by groups of men numbering in the 50's and 60's. This Fire Ceremony is also known as a purification ceremony that welcomes the change of season and also wards off evil spirits.
The Edinburgh New Year celebration of Hogmanay. Not quite the same as Christmas, but apparently enjoyed just the same or even more by the Scots!