Hogmanay, the Scots word for the last day of the year, is a celebration that is sometimes considered even more important than Christmas in Scotland, and it is followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year’s Day and, in some cases, on 2 January, which is a bank holiday in Scotland.
In the rest of the United Kingdom New Year’s Day became an official holiday only in 1972.
Hogmanay evolved from the pagan festivities of Yule, which celebrated the rebirth of the Sun.
Christmas was not celebrated as a festival in Scotland because the Church of Scotland had outlawed it because after the Protestant Reformation it was considered too Papist. It was only in 1958 that Christmas became a public holiday in Scotland.
Therefore, Scots had to work on Christmas day and so they celebrated their winter solstice holiday at New Year.
There are many customs associated with Hogmanay. Part of the celebration is known as “first footing”, which starts immediately after midnight.
The First Footer or Lucky Bird is the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour. He is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year and, traditionally, should be a tall, dark-haired man bringing a gift. These visits may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day: at present people may be seen visiting houses well into the middle of January. But remember: an empty handed first footer is generally considered to be a bad omen
In some areas bands of First Footers go from house to house receiving a glass of whisky or other alcoholic drink in return.
Image: illustration from the article “The First Foot” published in “The Illustrated London News” on 30 Dec 1882. (www.scottishcountrydanceoftheday.com/daysoftheyear/first-foot-and-friend)