Hogmanay Traditions

Hogmanay is the Scots term for the last day of the year, or New Year’s Eve and sees the Scottish hold a special celebration that runs through midnight into the New Year – and sometimes into the following day too!

History and customs

It is thought that Hogmanay is a combination of the winter solstice celebrations brought by the Vikings and the traditional Gaelic celebration of Samhain.  At one time, Christmas was not widely celebrated in Scotland the Hogmanay festival was the major festival of the period.

One of the most widespread customs associated with Hogmanay is that of the first-foot.  This is the first person crossing the threshold of a house after midnight and sees the person being given symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread or whiskey.  This is said to bring good luck to the household for the following year.

There are also a range of customs specific to parts of Scotland such as the fireball swinging in Aberdeen where locals make balls of chicken wire filled with newspaper and sticks and swing on a rope of around 3 feet in length above the head.  In central areas and Glasgow, a party is held on Hogmanay involving the eating of steak pie or stew, drinking and storytelling.

The singing of the poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is another Hogmanay tradition that has travelled around the world.  The poem was written by Robert Burns from older traditional songs and is sang in a circle with arms linked and crossed over one another.

Traditional recipes

Because Hogmanay is a Scottish tradition, the foods most associated with it are also Scottish.  The table on Hogmanay is traditionally filled with cold cuts of meat, a tureen of Scotch broth, soda-scones and cheeses.  Two special dishes served as part of the buffet included the Clootie Dumpling and black buns.

Clootie dumplings are a suet and fruit pudding that is served warm with jam and cream or custard and can be reheated the next day with a little butter.  It is cooked in a cloth (the cloot) which is sprinkled with flour to stop the mixture sticking to it.  Some recipes state that the pudding should have a skin on it, made with flour and sugar on the cloth and cooking the pudding would have been done in front of an open fireplace, though an oven is now an acceptable substitute.

A black bun is kind of fruit cake that is completely covered with pastry.  It was made using raisins, currants, almonds, allspice, citrus peel, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper and was first said to have been brought to Scotland with Mary, Queen of Scots, from France.  It was originally used to celebrate Twelfth Night or 5th January the eve of Epiphany and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas but in later times, it became associate with the Hogmanay traditions.

And of course, no Hogmanay traditional meal would be complete without plenty of good quality Scottish whiskey – a perfect excuse to invest in a few different bottles of some of the finest Scotland has to offer!

About A Taste of Devon

I've always loved food with a passion, I've spent my whole life developing recipes, learning new techniques and cooking every spare minute I get, in 2014 I appeared on MasterChef where I received positive feedback from John Torode and Series 2 Winner Peter Bayless. These days I run A Taste of Devon - a website dedicated to the food and drink scene in Devon.
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