New Year has always been a huge celebration in Scotland, in fact it has only been in the last 50 years or so that Scots took Christmas day off work as Hogmanay was always the main winter holiday in Scotland. Hogmanay is the traditional Scots name for December the 31st, Auld Years Night is another common phrase used for that day.
First footing was alive and well when I was a child but seems to have died down a bit lately. First footers simply visited the houses of friends, family and neighbours to wish them a Happy New Year after midnight taking gifts of black bun, shortbread and the all important bottle of whisky! Superstition has it that it is good luck if the first person to cross the threshold of the house after the bells strike is tall, dark and handsome and brings a lump of coal for good luck. These New Years parties can go on for several hours and into the next day with revellers guaranteed hospitality and a warm welcome at every house they visit, no wonder the second of January is a bank holiday in Scotland as we need an extra day to recover! When I was a child it was unthinkable to go to bed before the bells but if you look down an average Scottish street these days it is not uncommon to see a smattering of houses in darkness with their occupiers retiring to bed early with a cup of cocoa.
In modern times the street party has become a far more common way to celebrate Hogmanay with the street festival in Edinburgh being one of the largest parties in the world with huge bands playing at the castle and in Princes Street Gardens as well as a huge fireworks display at midnight and tickets needed to enter the city centre. I have visited Edinburgh on Hogmanay during the day and early evening and there is a carnival like atmosphere with funfairs, street entertainers and music but have never stayed till midnight. Tickets are already available in December 2009 for the 2110 street party so make sure you book early if you want to attend.
Many smaller towns and villages have their own street parties leading up to the bells. One I have visited a few times in the small Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. Here live bands play in the town square and food is available, one year a whole deer was roasted on a spit! As the clock approaches midnight people spill from their homes and pubs onto the streets and when the bells strike then everyone sings Auld Lang Syne before kissing and shaking hands with strangers and wishing them the best for the year ahead.
New years day itself is generally a fairly quiet day with many sleeping till late in the day and the rest of the day taken up by visiting friends and relatives. It is traditional to eat steak pie for dinner which most Scottish families still do.
South Queensferry is a small village a few miles north of Edinburgh and it is here that an event called the "Loony Dook" takes place. If you know that the word loony means lunatic and dook means to go underwater then you will realise that some brave, or foolish, people celebrate the new year by going for a swim in the sub zero waters of the river Forth. There were over 600 participants in 2009 and the event grows bigger each year but I think I prefer to stay warm and dry.
It has always been tradition to celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new in Scotland and although the method of celebration has changed over the years then it is still a major festival enjoyed by all.