What is Hogmanay?

Fireworks at Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Chris Flexen on Unsplash

Hogmanay is the word used to describe the very distinctive Scottish celebration of New Years’s Eve. This includes the communal singing of Auld Lang Syne, with words by the national poet Robbie Burns.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of auld lang syne

The tradition of linking arms as you sing Auld Lang Syne at to welcome in the new year has spread across the world.

Other Hogmanay customs include 'first-footing' - the welcoming the first visitor. First footers are encouraged to carry a lump of coal and gifts of whisky and shortbread. According to custom, tall tall dark strangers bring luck. 

Origin of the word Hogmanay

There are a number of not entirely convincing theories:
  • Hoggo-nott was a Scandinavian word for the shortest day. Evidently they needed work on their calendars as this is the 21st December.
  • The Flemish phrase hoog min dag means "great love day". This has not always apparent in the fiery eyes of dedicated revelers enjoying multiple whisky-chasers.
  • The Gaelic for “new morning” is oge maiden.
  • Homme est nĂ© is French for "Man is born". From here it is a big leap to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.
The BBC quotes Dr Donna Heddle from the University of the Highlands and Islands: "The most likely source seems to be French.