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Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year or New Year’s Eve. Although Hogmanay is generally regarded as the most important Scottish holiday, the origins of both the word and the traditions are obscure. Many people think that the term comes from French but there are also theories that it may have Gaelic, Norse, or Anglo-Saxon origins.

The traditions, as with most modern holidays, likely grew from pagan ones and many were probably also adapted from Christmas. After the Scottish Reformation, the Church of Scotland stifled public Christmas celebrations in the 17th century, and Christmas has only been a public holiday in Scotland since 1958! So it is likely that the modern Hogmanay traditions have some origins back in the 17th century while others are much more recent.

Older Hogmanay traditions and customs that are still practiced include gift giving, house blessing (and sometime cleaning), and the custom of first footing. First footing is tied to the belief that the first person to cross the threshold in the New Year will bring the fortune to that household, bad or good, for the coming year. The most desirable first-foot visitors (at least in Scotland) are tall, dark men who come bearing gifts. Good traditional gifts include whisky (obviously!), coal or peat (for heating), food (especially bread), and silver coins.

Most people in Scotland celebrate Hogmanay with meals, music, and dancing, and many towns have special customs or sporting events. Hogmanay gatherings are often ended with the singing of Auld Land Syne which is a poem by Robert Burns that is set to folk music. The 17th century Tron Kirk was a traditional place to gather around in Edinburgh for Hogmanay, but this has changed with the onset organized Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival.

The local customs and celebrations vary across regions in Scotland, and there are a lot of fire-related customs in villages in Scotland such as the Stonehaven Fireball Festivaland the Bigga Bonfire.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival dates back to 1993. The festival has allowed more visitors to participate in the Scottish holiday which has been traditionally celebrated in small gatherings and in private homes. The festival has grown to be one of the largest outdoor celebrations of New Year’s Eve in the world. In 2018, there was an estimated 75,000 people who came to celebrate the beginning of 2019.

When is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is the last day of the year (Gregorian calendar) and when people celebrate New Year’s Eve and the coming of the New Year.

So you will definitely want to be in Scotland on December 31st if you want to celebrate Hogmanay. New Year’s Eve is when the main Edinburgh celebration takes place, which includes the street party, large public ceilidh, concert, and fireworks. However, there are also celebratory events on the day before Hogmanay as well as the day or so following Hogmanay.

How Long does Hogmanay Last?

As noted above, Hogmanay is technically just one day but the Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh (as well as in other places in Scotland) lasts for about 3 days.

The big events include a torchlight procession and other entertainment on December 30th, a massive outdoor street party, concerts, and fireworks on December 31st, and then the Loony Dook (a morning dunk in a river) and smaller public entertainment options on January 1st. Some events may also take place on January 2nd, which is a public holiday in Scotland (but not the rest of the UK).