Friday, January 11, 2013

Hogmanay Hootenanny

Please indulge me in a totally Scottish blog this week but it has been Hogmanay. 2012 went out the window and 2013 came in through the front door in the hands of a tall, dark man carrying a wee sticky cake.

The great fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia states “Hogmanay is the word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner.”
 I don’t mind if you interpret the phrase ‘in the Scottish manner’ as being synonymous with falling over blind drunk and having such a bad hangover that your teeth hurt. The situation is so riotous that we have an extra bank holiday on 2nd January to allow the population to recover. When Ne'erday (New Year's Day) falls on a Sunday we get another holiday on the Monday and the Tuesday. If it falls on a Friday the following Monday becomes a public holiday. Not daft are we?
I tried to look up the etymology of the word and everybody and his granny has a theory but I tend to agree with the following. Much of Hogmanay is Norse in its ancestry. It seems to be something to do with banning trolls. If this is true, it has worked as I have not seen a troll round here for years.

Hogmanay has become popular in Scotland as Christmas was portrayed as a Catholic feast and was practically banned for years until the late 1950’s. For the men of my dad’s generation Christmas Day was a normal working day, the great shipyards of the Clyde were open for business.  All that family gathering, gifts, over cooked sprout stuff all happened at New Year.
In my youth New Year was as big a celebration as Christmas. It was a huge thing for a wee kid to be allowed to stay up for ‘the bells’. There was short bread, Madeira cake, doodlebugs, a mountain of sandwiches, cups of tea, ginger wine and maybe an Advocaat. We kids  used  to gorge  and end  up sick and back in bed before the New Year came anyway!
Now New Year begins with a colossal clean of the house.  All the windows will be open at some point to allow the old year out, in readiness for the new year coming in.
The minute the clock strikes 12 are known as ‘the Bells’ which is when the party really starts.
I feel a need to clarify a wee issue here. Scots tend to come in two types historically. Those that drink like a fish and are often seen on BBC TV throwing up in the gutter; the stereotypical ‘drunk Glaswegian’.  And then there is the other type; the Wee Free, non-drinking, never-laughing-on- a- Sunday type. The best way to think of them is like a militant faction of the Protestant faith. It is just another stereotype but those traditions do run deep into the blood.  The bells of the New Year, then and now, are seen in with a soft drink in those households. Plus an Advocaat for any hard drinkers that might pop in. Indeed the only spirits in the home I live in now is the poltergeist who lives upstairs.
Other families do sit down or a huge steak pie at midnight, or thereabouts. We drove past the local butcher’s shop at seven in the morning of 30th December and there was a queue out the door and half way down the street to buy these monstrous steak pies that feed 16 or so. It was mostly men in the queue. They are sent out for the pie so the women can get on with the cleaning.
 On the approach to midnight, the tray is set with food and the family sit and watch stuff on the TV that would normally bring on more vomiting than the  novo virus. All kilts and weird dancing, old songs sung badly by geriatrics dressed like Rob Roy's wee brother.  It’s real tartan shortbread tin stuff.
As the bells near, the TV is turned off and everybody stands up, glasses are raised and the minute the New Year comes in there is hugging and kissing etc. Where more than family gather there is always a rendition of ‘For Auld Langs Syne. If there is anybody English in the crowd they always get the hand crossing bit wrong and are immediately deported. At the recent Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd and 1st, the old Queenie did it correctly as the rest of the crowd got it wrong. She was pilloried by the English press for her ignorance. The Scots instantly offered to retain her status in an independent  Scotland. That debate raged in the newspapers for days. It must have been a low point for real news that week. (You should cross hands when you sing  And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere and gie's a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught, for auld lang syne.”) 
After all that activity, the family sit down and eat more sandwiches from the mountain while prodding granny to keep her awake. By now the kids are either hyperactive or in their bed ill from too many doodlebugs.

 We then await the first foot. The first person over the door step MUST be a tall dark man, to prove that he is not a Viking.  Or a troll. This tradition started because we were fed up being pillaged by Vikings. (They make a real mess of the carpets Mum has spent all day cleaning.)  A blonde crossing the door first is very bad luck indeed. I can recall my recently widowed neighbour (blonde and female) knocking on the door and telling my dad to run out the back door round the house and back in the front door so that he could first foot himself.  My dad is wee fat and baldy but you have to make do with what you have don’t you?
The first footer will bring specific gifts; alcohol, a lump of coal, shortbread and black bun.  These last two are known as “black bun and shortie.”   The food joins the tray of goodies as everybody has a drink and they all move onto the next house... taking the food  with them, then the  next house until they end up at a house where everybody already is. That tends to go on until dawn. This is not a good idea as ‘Mum’ normally has a huge dinner to prepare. Again.
A black bun is similar to fruit cake but is much worse. It is a pastry crust surrounding a raisin or currant filling. The typical black bun is made in large loaf pans, and may be made several days in advance of eating so that the currant and raisin mix matures and absorbs all the alcohol it is steeped in. Probably an attempt to take the taste away. The raisins and currants are mixed with ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and candied peel.  I won’t say that it is disgusting but even my dog turns her nose up at it. The fact it is inedible is not really an issue as the black bun is simply carried from one house to another in a calorific conga...and probably never eaten at all.

I grew up in a tenement, too young to be taken to the type of parties that went on there. Music would be booming from an open window, drunken laughter echoing down the ‘close’. It was always somebody’s Uncle Jimmy on the accordion with boozy singing of lyrics about our southern neighbours.  There would be a big pot of lentil soup on the gas stove. And everybody in the street would pile in to the tiny flat. There would also be a piper somewhere. Bagpipes on mass sound wonderful and will bring a patriotic tear to a glass eye on every occasion. But one alone sounds like a cat being slowly put through a mangle.
 As a point of interest my other half learned to drum in a pipe band. It is very good training for any drummer. He pointed out that bagpipes cannot join in with a piece of music that  is already playing,  as they don’t start the way other instruments do. They need sort of pumped up first. Mull of Kintyre is a good example; the bagpipes fade in to the main song as if they walked from another room. When Paul McCartney did that live in Glasgow the pipe band marched in from the back of the hall, having done all the dying cat stuff  in the  toilet well out of earshot.
It is also impossible for a bagpipe to come in on the right  note, it has a wee wander through the notes above and below first before landing on something close.

In Edinburgh they burn a Viking long ship as part of the street celebrations, nobody knows why they do this as the Vikings were clever folk and never went anywhere near Edinburgh. Their celebrations are among the largest in the world sometimes reaching over 400,000 people. Then the health and safety people found out that folk were enjoying themselves and cut the numbers.
In the Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony folk take to the street swinging burning balls above their heads as they make their way to the harbour. Any balls still burning are thrown  into the water... don’t think that the health and safety have found out about that  yet.

I’d like to wish all my fellow bloggers and the readers a Very Happy New Year. Lang may yer lum reek. On someone else’s coal!
Basically, long may your chimney smoke and so much the better if it is burning somebody else’s coal.
Hence why the first footer should always bring a lump of coal! Even if he is not Gerard Butler!
Enjoy 2013.




  1. Caro, I think I'm getting into a rut here, because each Friday all I can think to say is, WHAT A TERRIFIC POST!

    And not being as clever as the Vikings this one brought back memories of my first time in Edinburgh. I was visiting a Scot friend from Greece and he took me to his favorite pub--I believe on Prince Street. I made the horrible mistake of saying to the bartender who'd offered me a wee nip of his favorite scotch as a welcome drink that I didn't like scotch, then quickly tried to recover by adding that no doubt was because I suffered from a lack of experience with the "good stuff."

    As God be my witness, the bartender ran out a line of glasses along the length of the bar, filled each with a different scotch--starting from the lightest up to the "peatest"--and with a broad smile said, "Try these. Welcome to Scotland."

    I don't remember much more of that day...or the following two. So, yes, I fully understand and appreciate the program of a one day celebration, two-day recovery.

    1. I am reliably informed that the older you are the more you can appreciate finer whisky. Maybe because if you appreciate whisky too young, you don't live to an old age!
      Doodlebugs can be enjoyed at any age. In fact they can be enjoyed especially by those with dentures - handmade small balls of gooey sweet chocolate stuff rolled in coconut. A poor man's chocolate truffle but still about 200 calories per mouthful!

  2. I enjoy learning something new everyday. Thanks for supplying me with today with the Hogmanay Hootnanny.

  3. Jut charming, and I really appreciate your humor. I only know Scotland through books, and it has seemed a little more um, subdued than what you describe. I'm going to check out your books now.

  4. Loved it, Caro.
    And I'm sure many others did as well.
    Your post that is.
    I'm still asking myself whether I'd enjoy participating.

  5. Happy New Year Caro - the burning ball thing, does it have something to do with chasing away vikings? could explain how they ended up here in the far north. Lovely post - when I first visited Scotland I realized that if I had not been Icelandic I would have liked to be Scottish. You guys seem a bit goofy like us. Well, maybe even more so.


  6. Leighton, I'm asking myself the same thing...this would either be a very good, or a very bad time! Maybe if I skip the black bun and take the Gerard Butler...

    Caro, this was so much fun to read!

  7. At the risk of sounding ignorant, what's a doodlebug?