New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay
In some parts of the world, the New Year celebrations overshadow those of Christmas, and there is a greater harkening to the idea of the old year’s end and the new year’s beginning.
In Scotland, this day is known as Hogmanay, Old Year’s Night. This is a word of obscure origin, which may have derived from an old French term for New Year. Another possible and more intriguing suggestion is that it is a corruption of au gui menez, which means “lead to the mistletoe.” This suggests a possible ancient Druidic connection to Hogmanay, sort of a Celtic/Gaelic comparative to the Roman Saturnalia. Still in parts of France today, children run through the streets on New Year’s Eve, crying ” Au guy I’an neuf, au guy Gaulois” – to the mistletoe the New Year, to the French the mistletoe. Considering that mistletoe has long been honored as one of the three sacred plants of Yule, it may very well be that we are indeed celebrating remnants of an ancient celebration of a far older time.
In any case, regardless of its original meaning Hogmanay has come to be linked with the New Year’s Eve celebrations, of ushering out the old year and welcoming in the new. Indeed, the day following Hogmanay is known as Ne’erday – Day of the New.
Interestingly, some of the local traditions for celebrating Hogmanay in various villages around Scotland include fire festivals – fire often viewed as a representation of the sun.
In Burghead, a small fishing village in the northern part of Scotland, the new year is welcomed with the burning of the clavie… the clavie being a half-cask mounted on a pole, filled with wood and tar, and then lighted. The burning clavie is then carried around the village and then up to the top of a local hill, upon which stands the ruins of a Roman altar. Smoldering pieces of the clavie would be handed out to villagers, who use them to light their own New Year’s fires, thus bringing good luck for the new year. It should be noted that this custom is celebrated on January 11th, as this was the first day of the year in the former Julian calendar – this ancient tradition predates the modern Gregorian calendar, which was not adopted in the British Isles until the mid-1800s.
Not far away from Burghhead in the village of Stonehaven is yet another Scottish Hogmanay custom… the lighting of the fireballs. Balls made from chicken wire, paper, tar, and other flammable material are attached to a long chain or rope, and then assigned to a swinger, who would swing the balls around the head and body while walking through the streets of Stonehaven. At the end of the ceremony, the fireballs are cast into the harbor.
What an interesting and ancient way of welcoming in the new year, indeed!