Hogmanay

Hogmanay victuals for the ancestors

I said farewell to 2020 with every part of my being and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too.

I know for some that 1st January isn’t their definition of the new year, or that a new day on a new calendar doesn’t really mean anything. But for me, I could feel this desperate need to get to 1/01/2021, that the powers of the bells ringing in the new year, and the fireworks somehow helped to send all that bad energy packing.

I know it’s not gone gone, as such, but I do feel this is a brand new cycle and hopefully we all have learned better coping mechanisms to ride out aggression and oversharing of social media and get through this bloody pandemic once and for all. Last year was a challenge set to us and this year is the overcoming part of the tale. We’re in a labyrinth and we need to follow the thread to find our way out again.

In neo-paganism the concept of the witches new year at Samhain doesn’t gel with me. I don’t see the start of winter as a new beginning. The lengthening days after the winter solstice make more sense if we’re identifying the new year with the sun. Further to this, Imbolc is just around the corner and that to me feels more in line with the concept of a rebirth and new beginning to me than Samhain does.

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve on 31st December. The origins of the word are uncertain, thought to either derive from Gaelic, Norse or French origins. Hogmanay was once more widely celebrated than Christmas in Scotland, and this is due to Christmas being banned during the reformation. Even though this was repealed in 1712, anything seen as a Yule festivity was still frowned upon by the kirk, who could not be seen to approve of anything Catholic.

So Hogmanay was the biggest winter celebration in Scotland for a long time, and I would even say today it’s still seen as a big deal.

Traditionally once the bells ring in the new year, people would open doors and windows to allow the old year out and the new year to enter, and this is something I’ve been doing for years. This year, I practically ran to my door to say goodbye to 2020!

Food and drink are traditionally cheese, shortbread, black bun and of course, whisky. I’ve never had black bun before, so I bought some from the bakery to share with my ancestors this year. Black bun is a heavily spiced fruit cake wrapped in pastry and has gone out of fashion in recent years. After tasting it I can see why, it’s potent and not something you can eat much of. Not many folk where I live are all that fond of any kind of fruit cakes. A lot of people have an aversion to the appearance of raisins and sultanas and as there is a much wider variety of desserts these days than perhaps 50 years ago, it’s understandable why black bun is no longer widely used at Hogmanay.

First footing is another custom; this was the first person to cross your threshold in the new year, and first footers would normally bring gifts such as salt, coal, whisky, shortbread or black bun to bring luck to the householder. People would make note of the hair colour of their first footer; dark hair was said to be lucky while red hair was said to be unlucky for the new year. Well, perhaps the food and drink offerings presented crossed out that bad luck!

Customs vary per area, but along the east coast dressed herring was usually given as a gift due to the strong fishing communities along the coast.

New Years Day was traditionally a good time to sain the home, and I used my own saining blend that I created for my shop to cleanse and protect my space. Saining can either be done by burning the herbs, or mixing them in water to wipe down areas or asperge them. Traditionally a juniper and water rite was conducted. The home was sealed shut, and any crevices were stopped up to prevent the smoke from escaping. Water collected from a living and dead stream (a crossing point that funeral processions usually crossed) was shared amongst the guests and the rest sprinkled in the home. Juniper was burned at the hearth and the smoke was allowed to fill the space for as long as people could manage before doors and windows had to be flung open to bring in fresh air. This is a particularly dangerous practice, as we know the perils of smoke inhalation so I would not recommend this practice today. If you are interested in saining then better to burn a small amount of the herbs on a charcoal incense disc or to asperge with water.

My Hogmanay was a quiet one with my fiance, as many people’s were this year, as Scotland went back into a full lockdown from Boxing Day. This wasn’t unexpected due to the covid rates rising, but this year was definitely more sombre. Still I shared a slice of black bun and some cheese and whisky with the ancestors, I performed my Hogmanay rituals and I opened the door to 2021 and I step out into the new year with hope in my heart.

Lang May Yer Lum Reek wi’ ither folks coal!

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