Hogmanay Customs

Hogmanay is an important part of the Scottish Calendar, as well as celebrating Burns Supper, so let's explore some traditional Hogmanay Customs.

First of all, 'What is Hogmanay?' If this is a word you are unfamiliar with - it means “New Year's Eve”. While bringing in the New Year is celebrated around the world, it is probably more important to many Scots than the celebration of Christmas.

The Origins of the word are not clear. Some say it is the celebration of the winter solstice among the Nords, while others say it is part of the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain. In Europe, the winter solstice celebrations came from the ancient celebration of Saturnalia,which originated from a Roman winter festival. Other folk believe it came from the celebration of the 'Yule' by The Vikings which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas. Other occasions we celebrate include Valentine's Day and of course St Andrew's Day.

During the Protestant Reformation period, Christmas was banned as it was seen as as being Roman Catholic and the celebrations were banned in Scotland for hundreds of years. Indeed it wasn't even a public holiday and many people had to work, and somewhere along the line New Year became the time for having time off work, celebrating with family etc and it became a much bigger and more important celebration than Christmas. But the excesses of Hogmanay were not liked by the Church either, and many of the celebrations went 'underground'. These days, however, all the Hogmanay customs and celebrations are seen as a huge part of Scottish culture, and now have spread throughout the world.

There were many traditions that were upheld at this time of the year, but many of the old hogmanay customs have now disappeared although have carried on down through the generations and remain part of the celebrations today.

If you want to learn much more about this as well as other Scottish Customs, traditions including our language - then I invite you to browse our Customs and Culture Bookstore, where you'll find a variety of different books available, even Scots to English Dictionaries!
  • The Pre-Hogmanay Preparations.

Cleaning the House - the 31st December was often a busy day, a day of preparing to see the Old Year out, and to bring in the New Year. Many businesses closed early to allow the workforce time to go home and clean their houses from top to bottom. This cleaning began in the days when everyone had open fires, and fireplaces in particular had to be cleaned. It was considered bad luck by some to go into the New Year with a dirty house. The tradition of cleaning the house for new year still exists today.

Getting rid of Debt – this was another thing that was seen as unlucky and most households would endeavour to get rid of all debt before midnight on 31st. It wasn’t good to go into the New Year with debt. It’s a pity this tradition has stopped as we now live in times when most people enter the New Year with the debt of over-spending at Christmas.

Hogmany customs - countdown to midnight

  • Midnight

Having family and friends together and partying is one of the main Hogmanay customs. As soon as the clock strikes 12. bells are rung in every town and village throughout the land. Many places have street parties with the villagers for example all meeting in the village square to bring in the New Year together. These days of course fireworks are also set off, so it can be quite a spectacular sight, depending on where you are. So even if you don’t want to go outside, you can open your curtains, see the fireworks, hear the bells and the music.

Immediately after midnight it is traditional for everyone to stand in a circle, cross over their arms, hold hands with people on either side sing Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne". If you don’t know what the words mean – click here to see my attempt at a translation People from around the world sing this, although they often only know the chorus:

"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."

But of course the Scottish hospitality of welcoming family, friends and neighbours, also extended to strangers is still very much a custom today. Everyone is in a happy mood, with or without a ‘drink’ and the belief is very much that a line is drawn under the Old Year and the New one welcomed in on a happy note.

  • First Footing

This is another one of those hogmanay customs which is still practiced today. It literally means the "first foot" to step into a house after midnight is still common in Scotland. This is still full of tradition and even superstition. In order to ensure good luck for the house, the ‘first foot’ over the door should be male, dark; and of course everyone ‘first footing’ should take symbolic gifts such coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. (Blonds & redheads, and especially females with this hair colouring first-footers were considered ‘bad luck’). These gifts meant the household would be safe and warm and have enough food for the year. These days, however, whisky and perhaps shortbread and the famous black bun are the most common gifts first-footers take. Of course most hosts would have plenty of food and drink in to offer to their guests.

When I was a youngster, we used to go ‘first footing’ around the parents of my friends, often not get home until the wee small hours. For others the party went on until the next day, or even the day after that!

  • Torch and Bonfire Ceremonies

As I mentioned earlier most towns and villages have their own celebrations and there are often TV cameras in larger communities which interview the party-goers wishing others throughout the country a ‘Guid (good) New Year’. Obviously in places like the capital Edinburgh you will find not only the bells, but the whole street party is televised, has bands playing and there is also the fabulous and magical Firework display and torchlight procession.

Scotland comes to a standstill on January 1st and it’s worth noting that January 2nd is a also a holiday in Scotland. I think the theory is to allow folk time to recover from a week celebrations, and the hogmanay customs.

But, like any celebration anywhere in the world, one of the main features of hogmanay customs is the famous and traditional Scottish Food. I’ve taken the easy way out here – my friend Susan & Howard run a fabulous Bed and Breakfast in Inveraray, and Susan has kindly shared with me the menu they will serve their guests for this period.

Hogmany customs - wishing each other a happy New Year

Hogmanay Dinner


Melon & Prawn Salad

Spicy Root Vegetable Soup

Goats cheese roast pepper and tomato tart


Hogmanay Pie

Prepare to ceilidh with the homemade pie of your choice

served with a selection of freshly steamed vegetables

Gamekeeper’s Supper

casseroled venison and rabbit,

with shallots in a rich red wine sauce

topped with puff pastry

Pescetarian en Croute

fillet of salmon

topped with a Hollandaise Sauce

tucked up in a shortcrust pastry

Vegetarian Crusty

Spinach & Ricotta

in a herb pastry tart accompanied by homemade salsa


Traditional Homemade Clootie Dumplin' & Custard

Carmelised Pears & Ice Cream

Crannachan Meringue

Tea or Coffee

Served with sweet selection


New Year Dinner


Liver Pâté

Celeriac Soup

Smoked Fish Pâté

served with homemade bread


Main Course

served with a selection of freshly steamed vegetables

Collops of Beef

medallions of tender beef fillet

layered on haggis and topped by a whisky sauce

Vegetarian Option – Thinking of mushroom stroganoff

served with a selection of freshly steamed vegetables

Sideboard of Sweets

Try more than one if you can and dare! (or share!)

Whisky Mac Cream

decadent combination of chilled cream,

with cosy whisky and ginger wine

Traditional Trifle

Chocolate & Raspberry Torte

Kebabs of Fresh Fruit

with spoons of options

raspberry coulis, ice cream or cream to your delight

Tea or Coffee

Served with sweet selection


Ne’erday Buffet Supper

Help yourself to a wee nibble of what you fancy


Selection of

Pâté, Cheese, Meats




Savoury Biscuits

Crudités & Dips

Crisps & nuts

Sweet Tastes


Clootie Dumplin’,

Mince pies,

Black bun,



Tea/Coffee/Soft Drinks

A wee glass of Sherry/Port

If you have enjoyed this page on Scottish Hogmanay Customs, then look at these pages too:

Traditional Scottish Christmas - Have a look at some of the traditions we have for celebrating Christmas.
Burns Supper - Discover this famous Meal which celebrates the birth of our famous Poet Rabbie Burns.
Auld Lang Syne - Print off the words and sing ready for Hogmanay.
My translation of Auld Lang Syne - Read these words and impress your friends by understanding the words of 'Auld Lang Syne'
Valentine's Day in Scotland - Did you know that the remains of St Valentines are in Glasgow, Scotland? Find out more
Mothers' Day - A simple menu of Cottage Pie followed by rhubarb crumble.
Christmas Cake - Do try this recipe for a traditional Christmas cake.
Scottish Recipes - Check out some of the famous, authentic and traditional Scottish recipes.
Weights and Measurements - Whatever recipe you want to try, this simple guide to weights and measurements and Oven temperatures might help.
Black Bun - This deliciously rich cake is served traditionally at New Year.
Clootie Dumpling - This rich and traditional dish is a favourite all year round but especially at Christmas time.
Roast Venison - Make Christmas, Thanksgiving or other celebration special by serving roast venison to your guests.
Famous Shortbread Recipes - Have a look at some variations of shortbread recipes.
Raspberry Recipes - See what you can do with a punnet of delicious raspberries, including the famous dessert, Crannachan.
Scotch Broth - See the recipe for hearty Scotch Broth.
Scotch Eggs - A simple recipe for you to try. Can be served hot or cold, often at buffets.
Tablet - Indulge in this delicious, but sweet Scottish confectionery.

Feel free to browse our Bookshops - I am sure you will find something to interest you:-

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