Lanark County Scottish New Year – Hogmanay

Among the earliest settlers to Lanark County were Scots who came from Glasgow and Lanarkshire, after the Napoleonic war. These immigrants settled mostly in the townships of Dalhousie, Lanark, North Sherborooke and Ramsay. In 1820, approximately 400 families arrived in Lanark County, bringing their skills in cotton weaving, carpentry, blacksmithing and shoe-making. Many of these Scots also brought their traditions from the old country, and one of their most beloved was their New Year’s known as Hogmanay.

Many of these Hogmanay traditions were brought to Scotland by the Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. In some parts of Scotland, like Shetland, the Viking influence remains strong, and New Year is still called ‘Yules’, derived from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.

Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and was banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. This was because of the Protestant Reformation movement, when it was believed that Christmas was a Catholic feast, and should be banned.

Hogmanay Traditions

It was customary to clean the house, and take out the ashes from the fire. It was also a requirement to clear all your debts before “the bells” sound midnight, the underlying belief was to clear out the remains of the old year, and have a clean slate to welcome in a young New Year.

First Footing

First Footing refers to the first person to cross your threshold after midnight on New Year’s Eve. They must be dark-haired, which is an ancient tradition going back to the days of the Viking invasions, when a fair-haired person could mean trouble for your household.

They must be bearing gifts, and specifically – a half-bottle of scotch whisky, a generous piece of black bun, a few pieces of coal. The whisky and black bun is to ensure that the home has food and drink in the coming year, and the coal is symbolic that the home will be warm in the year ahead.

Once the first footer crosses the threshold (and they can be turned away if they are light-haired), they are led through the entire home. When the tour is finished they place the coal on the fire, offer whiskey to the family, and the black bun is sliced and shared. Next, they kiss every female in the home, and wish them all the best in the new year.

The first-footer should be dark complexioned,

and their name begins with straight, not curvy letters.

First Footing Rules   

The first footer brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead.

They should be male and dark-haired.

They may not be doctors, members of the clergy or grave-diggers, and must not have eyebrows that meet in the middle.

They should bring whiskey, coal, and black bun.

A first footer may claim a kiss from every woman present.

If your First Footer doesn’t meet all the requirements, then the household is heading for an unlucky year.

A toast is made by the First-Footer before he leaves – ” A good new year to all and many may you see”

Torchlight Parade

Fire also plays a special role in Hogmanay customs, and originates in the pagan traditions of the pre-Christian Celts. In modern times, the annual Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh continues with thousands marching through the city center carrying blazing torches.

Scottish Black Bun

Black Bun recipe:

Pastry Case

3 c flour  

1/2 tsp baking powder

6 Tbsp lard

6 Tbsp butter

1 pinch salt

Cold water


2 ¾ c seedless raisins  

2 Tbsp brandy

1 Tbsp milk

2 ¾ c  currants  

1/3 c chopped almonds

1 pinch black pepper  

¼ c mixed peel

1 ½ c flour  

1/3 c brown sugar  

1 tsp allspice  

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 large egg beaten


Grease an 8-inch loaf tin. Blend the lard and butter into the flour and salt and mix in cold water to make a stiff dough. This will be used to line the tin. Roll out the pastry and slice into six pieces to fit the bottom, top and all four sides of the tin. Press into the tin, pressing the overlapped sections to seal.

Mix the raisins, currants, almonds, peel and sugar together. Sift in the flour, add the spices and baking powder, then mix together with the brandy and most of the egg. Add enough milk to moisten.

Place the filling into the lined tin and top with the pastry lid, sealing the edges. Lightly score the surface with a fork.

Brush the top with milk to create a glaze.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 325F 2-3 hours. Test with a skewer which should come out clean; if not, continue baking.

Cool in the tin and then on a wire rack. 

A First-Footer kisses every woman in the household

Auld Lang Syne

Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns‘ “Auld Lang Syne”. Burns published his version of this traditional New Year’s song in 1788, although it is said the original was written 80 years before that.

To sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ the traditional Scottish way, a circle is formed and hands are joined with the person on either side of you. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their chest, so the right hand reaches out to the neighbour. When the song ends, everyone rushes to the middle, still holding hands.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

New Year’s Morning

Saining the House

There is a Scottish highland custom of saining (blessing) the house and and the livestock, and is still practised today, mostly in rural areas. The ritual involves the drinking of water believed to be magic which must be sourced from a river ford that’s said to be crossed by both the living and the dead. Next is the burning of juniper branches, enough to fill the house with smoke, and is believed to cleanse the house and drive away evil spirits.

After these two rituals are completed, the windows and doors are opened to let in fresh, New Year air, and a wee nip of whisky is taken before indulging in a hearty Scottish breakfast.

“Out with the Old, and in with the New!”

Scottish New Year’s Blessing

Happy New Year!

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

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