Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy Hogmanay!

Alana mentioned how my blog wasn't up to date. This makes the 17th post of the month, which would have been a record if not for my recent spate (since September) of blog posts. I haven't been feeling all that "bloggy" recently, which at least partially explains why this is the first post in five days.

As I've mentioned this year, the U.S. beats Canada at Thanksgiving, but Canada beats the U.S. at Christmas. Scotland, on the other hand, beats both countries for New Years celebrations.

Until the 1960s there wasn't much celebration in Scotland around Christmas time. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland managed to suppress the celebration of Christmas at the beginning of the Reformation (the suppression of Christmas as a celebration was common in the U.S. among the pilgrims, too). Christmas was reserved for religious observance. The Church of Scotland, famous for putting the "shun" in Reformation, put a stop to the pagan-originated holidays around the winter solstice. Several of these had been co-opted by early Christians to form the Christmas holiday season (Roman occupied nations had Saturnalia; Norse nations had Yule). Scotland had the New Year celebration known as Hogmanay (pronounced "hug-mah-NAY), also known as Ne'erday, a contraction of New Year's Day.

By the end of the 17th century the Church loosened it's proscription on having fun around the longest night of the year. While in England Christmas became a big gift giving holiday (particularly by the 19th century, where most of our modern Christmas traditions come from), in Scotland Christmas was still just a time for religious observance. Gift giving and partying was reserved for the secular New Year's Eve celebrations.

I remember my parents saying that Christmas wasn't a huge celebration and never quite understood. I hadn't realized, as a child, that gift giving and fellowship was primarily a New Year's thing until the 1960s in Scotland. I don't know what my parents and our family did before I came along in the early 1960s, but for our family presents were given on Christmas Day. This follows the trend in Scotland, too. Thanks to television, England's cultural imperialism infected the nation north of it, and by the 1980s Christmas had become the big gift giving day.

But this didn't really lessen the impact of Hogmanay, steeped in tradition and superstition as it is. Hogmanay is technically December 31, but it really centres around the switch to midnight and the next day. And the day after that, too. In Scotland, New Year's Day is, of course, a holiday, but so too is January 2.

Hogmanay's big "ritual" is known as "first footing". The first person in the house after the stroke of midnight is, by tradition, supposed to set the luck of the house for the rest of the year. By tradition the "first foot" should be a dark haired man bearing gifts. The gift part is obvious, as it represents wealth. There are a bunch of traditional gifts (black bun, whiskey), but a lump of coal is the biggie (as it represented enough coal to keep the fire going all winter, a big deal in a northern climate). The dark haired part was good because it meant the visitor was a Scot (while a blond or red-haired man meant that they were probably Norse, which in turn meant that they were probably viking raiders, and thus not very welcome).

One tradition that my family followed that Alana's family never did is keeping up the Christmas tree and decorations until Twelfth Night. We were never in a rush to pull down the tree until around my sister's birthday on January 5, while Alana is itching to pack everything on New Year's Day (if not before!). Twelfth Night is the end of the Christmas festivities, known (today mostly through the song) as the Twelve Days of Christmas. It's not surprising that Scotland would have a deeper appreciation of Twelfth Night, as Scotland's winter solstice celebrations extend almost to January 5 anyway, and from what I've heard in Glasgow and Edinburgh they really do extend that long, sort of like a Scottish equivalent to Mardi Gras (without the beads and breast exposure).

(While we're talking about the Twelve Days of Christmas, whoever created the instrumental only muzak version of that song should be sent to a special circle of Hell...)

It's now after 9 p.m. in Louisiana. It's 2007 in Scotland. To everyone, be they Scottish or not, I wish y'all a Happy Hogmanay!

(Just as I typed that someone set off fireworks. I've never seen a nation so fireworks happy!)

4 comments:

Michael said...

Happy 2007, y'all. Still recovering from the 'flu, but I figure I can watch college football while I do that.

We're of the keep-the-decorations-up persuasion. The Xmas flamingo will be staying up until next Saturday. The big problem for me has always been getting the thing set up in the first place. I like seeing the flamingo festooned with lights and ornaments. I'd have it decorated for six weeks if I could just get organized.

Liza said...

Happy 2007 to one and all. You are the very first blog I have ever posted to, so you must be special. Actually, yours is the only one I read at all. Luddite such as I am. Anyway, as we always have a New Year's party, I hem and haw about the tree. It was pointed out to me that everyone tends to be either in the kitchen or around the laden dining table, so the tree should be fine. As it were, the tree was left in the corner, more or less on its own. Since the kids are off this week, we will take it down later. Right now, we are still in clean up mode.

Oh, and by the way, regarding your thoughts about Boxing Day; I don't think anyone gets fined anymore, judging by the plethora of sales and people spending a tonne of money. I avoid all stores on that day.

Ta, Liza

Allan Goodall said...

Happy 2007, y'all. Still recovering from the 'flu, but I figure I can watch college football while I do that.

Sorry to hear that you're still under the weather!


I like seeing the flamingo festooned with lights and ornaments. I'd have it decorated for six weeks if I could just get organized.

That reminds me of something we saw that we were thinking of sending to you, but we're not entirely sure it wouldn't cost $50 to ship it, and that it might not survive the trip intact!

Allan Goodall said...

Happy 2007 to one and all.

Happy New Year to you, too!


You are the very first blog I have ever posted to, so you must be special.

I am special, in the "special class" sense...


Actually, yours is the only one I read at all.

Cool! I'm honored! And honoured!

I was thinking about one of your anecdotes when I wrote today's blog entry. I related to Alana the time you were in Northern Ontario and you had to go to the hospital emergence room for something you did to yourself. You said how two or three people kept coming up to you, reading your chart, and then asking you the "religious preference" question, because you had left it blank. Reminds me a lot of what happened to Alana recently.


Anyway, as we always have a New Year's party, I hem and haw about the tree. It was pointed out to me that everyone tends to be either in the kitchen or around the laden dining table, so the tree should be fine.

There's always something "New Years" about a Christmas tree that's "empty" underneath. I always relate a tree like that with the post-Christmas holiday season. New Years wouldn't be quite right without that. (This year our tree is a painted, wooden tree two or three feet tall and standing on our pyramid shelf; we had a hard time getting Christmas stuff up, with Alana not feeling well and all).


Oh, and by the way, regarding your thoughts about Boxing Day; I don't think anyone gets fined anymore, judging by the plethora of sales and people spending a tonne of money. I avoid all stores on that day.

I wondered if that had been relaxed. Thanks for filling that in!