Journey into New Year

A Journey into New Year…

Blog. 31st December 2020

A tour into the Scottish Highlands just before New year is a special experience. The anticipation of, ‘out with the old and in with the new’ in Scotland at New Year time is right at home in this ancient country. A journey from the lowlands to the highlands is always a special experience. Put that journey in winter, with wild snow-capped mountains and landscapes with old castles tucked away in atmospheric glens, and the journey becomes even more special. Do this journey somewhere between December 28th to 31st, with a view to spending New Year in the Scottish Highlands, well that puts the icing on the cake, or should that be, the icing on the black bun! (A Scottish New Year fruit cake)!  

New Year is a special time in Scotland and we look forward with great excitement to this mid-winter festival, New Year’s Eve, or as we call it, Hogmanay. It was our only December event, from the 16th Century until Christmas started to appear again in the 1950s. Christmas Day did not become an official holiday here until 1971! We have the Protestant Reformation to thank for this huge lull in festive activities. The Kirk proclaimed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast, and as such, needed banning. So, if you are Scottish, Hogmanay or as everyone else calls it, New Year’s Eve, is where it’s at.

So, what of this word Hogmanay? It is not known exactly where the word comes from. Type it in to Google and you will find many definitions of it, but let’s just keep in mind that Hogmanay is the Scottish name for New Year Celebrations! And let us also note that only one nation in the world can celebrate this event with such passion – Scotland. The exact meaning of the word isn’t exactly clear. It was first seen in the 15th Century as the Latin incarnation Hagnonayse. It also mysteriously popped up in the early 1600s in the town of Elgin in Moray, Scotland as Hagmoney. It is possible it comes from the French word Hoguinane, which refers to a New Year’s gift given to children or it could be a gala day. It is thought to have first been used widely across Scotland following Mary Queen of Scots return to Scotland from France in 1561.  Other records show it may have been introduced much earlier by the Norse people in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Norse would celebrate their mid-winter solstice or the shortest day with some serious partying. In Shetland, Scotland’s most northern isles where Viking influence remains strongest, New Year is still called Yules, deriving from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter, festival of Yule. So, to summarise, Hogmanay is of Norse, Pagan, Celtic, Gaelic, French and Latin origin! Personally, I just like to think of it as Old Years Night.


There are many different types of Hogmanay festivals across Scotland, but the one thing they all have in common is the celebration of getting past midnight. We can now look toward to better times, whether it is the approaching spring season or hoping that your luck may change! Some festivals lend from the Pagan rituals of light in the dark. The light in these events, which still happen across Scotland today, comes from fire. Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire is one of the most famous with their fireball ceremony. Approximately 40 men and women parade up and down the high street swinging fiercely flaming balls around their heads. The fire balls are sent into the sea at the old harbour. This is a spectacular event with bagpipes and fireworks and one which is well worth experiencing.

Mid-20th Century Hogmanay’s, particularly the 1950s, 60s and 70s, do have their place in modern Scottish history as the golden era of partying. They were more like a series of local neighbourhood impromptu parties rolled up into one festival. Most people’s doors were open, and strangers would be in your house sharing a drink with you before moving on to their own houses or friends of friends houses or back at their own. It was all very, go-with-the-flow! The last night of the year could change direction at any time and for many people, it could eventually take the form of an aimless stagger! Families and friends would gather on the evening on December 31st and literally party for days on end. Your door was always open for neighbours to pop in to say hello, have a drink and then move on. What a lovely slice of Utopia!

I vividly remember the Hogmanay’s of the late 1970s. I remember happy times; My Mum and Dad’s family and friends coming to our house, and us going to theirs, I remember the sing-a-longs, the laughing, the music, and I remember that beautiful phrase – “next year is going to be our year darling!” A phrase beautifully captured in Meet Me in St Louis when Judy Garland sings “from now on all our troubles will be far away”. Or, in The Pogues Fairytale of New York – “I’ve got a feeling, this years for me and you”. Out with the old and in with the new indeed, and what a wonderful way to start a New Year.

Nowadays it is popular for Scots to travel into the Highlands for New Year, to get away from it all. We enjoy the sentimentality of Hogmanay, with the great outdoors and a snowy landscape perfect for walking and just being there. Being in bonnie Scotland's highlands at  New Year is what most people are looking for now, and this is becoming popular with overseas visitors too. 

Auld Lang Syne. A song that offers a friendly hand along with a lot of tears…

Now, if you are questioning the Scots ownership of New Year (oh how dare you), we also gave you the ultimate New Year tradition – Auld Lang Syne. Many people say that Whisky is Scotland’s gift to the world (well, of course it is), but to me, Auld Lang Syne is a gift from Scotland to every man, woman and child across the world. And what does it mean? Well, you are entering Hogmanay territory here! Here are the words…

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind,

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne,


For auld lang syne my jo

For auld lang syne

We’ll tak a cup o kindness yet

For auld lang syne

2nd verse

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!

And surely I’ll be mine!

We’ll tak a cup o kindness yet

For auld lang syne


3rd Verse

We twa hae run about the braes,

And powed the gowans fine,

But we’ve wandered mony a weary fit,

Sin auld lang syne


4th Verse

We twa have paidled in the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine,

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne


5th Verse

And there’s a hand

My trusty fiere!

And gies a hand o thine!

And we’ll take a right good-willie waught

For auld lang syne

The lyrics of any song, whether it’s Coldplay’s Yellow or David Bowie’s Life on Mars, are what you, the listener, interpret them as, you make it your own. Who knows what the artist is singing about? And quite frankly, who cares! If the melody is right and just the some of the words resonate with you, then it has meaning. Auld Lang Syne is written in a local Scots language and not even all Scots know its meaning, or the words. For that matter! However, there are words in there which do resonate.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? = Should old friends be forgot?

For Auld Lang Syne = For old times.

We twa have run about the braes = As kids we ran on the hills.

But we’ve wandered mony a weary fit = We have drifted apart

But seas between us braid hae roar’d = There is an ocean between us now

The last verse deals with meeting up again, giving a hand of friendship and sitting down with a drink for old times’ sake.

Yep, tears in my eyes now!

For me, Auld Lang Syne is about the beauty in the past. I think about my Mum and Dad, my Grandparents, my family, my friends from years ago, my friends I see regularly and some not so. I think about the good times and how lucky I am to have a loving wife and family. This is not the case for many, and I always remember this. Like many Scots, at around 12.10am on January 1st I think of the phrase, “I’ve got a feeling, this years for me and you” and I raise a glass to everyone, living and departed who are so dear to me… It is all there, in Auld Lang Syne.

Happy New Year and peace be with you x