Happy Hogmanay! What’s Hogmanay?

It will soon be time to say Happy New Year to all our readers, or as they may say in Scotland – Happy Hogmanay! So Hogmanay is just a Scottish word for New Year’s Eve? Far from it! Hogmanay is an entire festival in its own right – and as with many of Scotland’s cultural events it comes with its own array of unique traditions which the Scottish people take very seriously…! Here we thought we’d answer a few questions about this particular Scottish festival…

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at Hogmanay.
Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at Hogmanay.

So there is a big party, right? The evening of Hogmanay is of course celebrated in the way Scots know best – with lots of music, spectacle, dancing and perhaps a nip of whisky. Edinburgh is a focal point for celebration with an organised ticketed street-party taking place in recent years, however previously an unofficial gathering would take place on the Royal Mile around the old Tron Church – with the clock of ancient tower decidedly unreliable chaos would ensue around midnight with various groups celebrating at different times and on different count-downs!

Is Hogmanay just celebrated in Edinburgh? No, celebrations take-place up and down the country and are not immune to local and regional twists. In Stonehaven near Aberdeen, giant balls of mesh filled with flammable material attached to chains are lit upon the tolling of the midnight bells and swung around the heads of the marchers who parade up and down the High Street. Think that’s strange? On the Isle of Orkney it is said there used to be a tradition where the man-folk took turns to don the remains of a burnt out cow’s head – why, no one is quite sure… The Highland city of Inverness and historic Stirling both opted for more traditional festivities and hosted magnificent music concerts this year.

Dancing to Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay.
Dancing to Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay.

Is there one thing which is done across Scotland? Wherever the celebrations take place, you can guarantee to hear the familiar tune of Auld Lang Syne! This traditional Scots poem, penned by famed Scottish poet Robert Burns, will be boomed out of every pub and inn throughout Scotland as people link arms to dance and sing-along. And of course this is a tradition not only also adopted in England and Wales but exported across the world! But as the Scots will tell you, it’s only done properly in Scotland.

And after midnight and the singing ends, the festival is over? Not a chance! First-footing is an old custom which remains observed today whereby people go to visit friends and neighbours after midnight. You should of course come bearing gifts and if your first visitor (or first-footer) is a tall, dark man with lump of coal then that is particularly lucky (obviously!).

Dooking in Edinburgh at Hogmanay
Dooking in Edinburgh at Hogmanay

But you can rest on New Year’s Day, right? Erm, not exactly. Unless you consider going for a swim in the sea relaxing – bearing in mind this is January and you’re in Scotland! Recent years have seen a resurrection of this old tradition known as “Dooking” whereby people gather to go for a nice dip in Scotland’s icy coastal waters on New Year’s Day. The aptly named “Looney Dook” in South Queensferry in Edinburgh is now a recognised part of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations and many swear it is the ultimate antidote for the excesses of the previous night – we’ll take their word for it!

New year’s Day is of course a public holiday across the UK, however, uniquely in Scotland, January 2nd is also a public holiday which means most people enjoy an extra day off work. Some people in England and Wales are jealous of this whilst others simply believe, after all that ritual, they deserve it!

Burns Night – A Scottish Festival

The Scottish know how to have a good party – in Scotland both January 1st and 2nd are public holidays (so as to offer good recovery time from Hogmanay) and the national day, St Andrews Day, is patriotically celebrated.  There is little excuse needed then for a further festival which takes place across Scotland on January 25th each year to celebrate possibly the nation’s greatest poet – Robert “Rabbie” Burns – and few festivals could carry with them such intrinsically Scottish tradition!

Scottish Poet Robert Burns
Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Taking place on or around January 25th, each year, the Birthday of Robert Burns, “Burns Night” is celebrated widely throughout Scotland as a tribute to the life and works of this great Scottish poet.  Robert Burns, who was born in the 1700s and loved in the Scottish Borders region south of Glasgow, was, and still is, revered as a master of the Scots Language as well as writing in English and a Scots dialect of English; his poetry and folk songs are widely known across Scotland and indeed the world and include the famous “Auld Lang Syne” which is traditionally sung at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) each year and of course, his “Address to a Haggis” a fantastic work dedicated to Scotland’s national dish.

Piping of the Haggis
Piping of the Haggis

The Burns Night celebration usually takes place as a traditional Burns Supper which can be a formal meeting and meal of a society, club or social group or simply a family gathering. Nowadays this gathering can take many forms however typically the evening starts with contributions from the attendees which could be story-telling, recitals of verse or performances of songs, original or old but most definitely including some of Burns’ work.  Then to the important business of food and drink – the main dish is of course Haggis (minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served in a sheep’s stomach lining) usually served with neeps and tatties (Parsnips and Potatoes).  Traditionally the meal is served only after a recital of the famous “Address to a Haggis” often accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes in the background.  The dish is of course washed down with some quality single malt scotch whisky!  In more formal quarters the evening is then rounded off with “a toast to the lassies” whereby a male speaker shares his views and words of wisdom on the subject of women followed by what’s now often referred to as the “toast to the laddies” in which a female responds with her insights and anecdotes regarding  the male species!  And all followed with general socialising, drinking and banter that the Scots are so good at.

If you find yourself in Scotland in January, don’t miss out on a chance to experience a Burns Supper and even if you’re not here for Burns Night itself you can still enjoy a traditional Scottish evening in Edinburgh including the piping of the Haggis.

Scottish Festivals is one of “Top Five Reasons to Visit Scotland
For the full poem “Address to a Haggis” click here and to hear some stunning recitals click here.

Top Five Reasons to Vacation in Scotland!

There are literally hundreds of good reasons to choose to Scotland as your vacation destination so you’ll understand my concern when I was asked to compile just FIVE for this blog post!  Well, you may call it cheating, but I’ll call it creative thinking when below I have listed five categories under each of which there could be dozens of other reasons, but you get the idea…

1. Scottish Festivals and Cultural Events

Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Edinburgh Castle

Whether it’s a traditional Highland Games event where kilted competitors toss the caber or dance a Highland Fling to the tune of the bagpipes or the stunning celebrations of seeing in the new year at Hogmanay, Scotland knows how to put on a show!  Nowhere is this more apparent than during the month of August at the Edinburgh Festival where the city comes alive with street entertainment, theatre, musical, visual arts and comedy events.  Not forgetting of course the internationally renowned spectacle of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place to the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle itself.

2. Scottish Scenery and Wildlife

Puffins on Isle of Mull
Puffins on Isle of Mull

If the aim of your vacation to escape the hum-drum of life then there is nowhere better in the world to get close to nature!  One of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses, the Scottish Highlands, islands and coasts are a landscape lovers haven – rolling hills, unspoilt golden bays, shimmering lochs and heather-strewn glens in abundance.  And these landscapes, the invigorating air and the chilly coastal waters provide perfect unspoilt habitats for some wondrous wildlife from the red squirrel to roaming wild deer, from circling eagles to nesting puffins and from tiny seals to magnificent whales.

3. Scottish Castles

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands

From castellated baronial manor houses to imposing fortified towers, few countries can offer the vast array of contrasting castles that Scotland has to boast.  Eilean Donan Castle, on a tidal island in the glassy waters of Loch Duich has become a Scottish Icon in itself having appeared in many films, most notably Highlander.  The dramatic ruins of Urquhart Castle near Inverness on the weather-beaten shores of Loch Ness offers an excellent look-out point for some nessie-spotting whilst Dunottar Castle, reputedly Scotland’s most haunted fortress clings to cliffs near Aberdeen overlooking the wild waters of the North Sea.  Possibly most famous however is the stunning Edinburgh Castle, once the royal seat for Scottish Kings and Queens; perched atop a volcanic rock in the heart of the city the castle offers stunning vistas and is still home to the Scottish Crown Jewels to this day.

4. Scottish Food and Drink

Scotch Whisky Dram
Scotch Whisky Dram

With its rich rural and coastal landscapes it is not surprising that Scotland produces its own quality foods such as beef, local game and the freshest of seafood. Traditional Scottish dishes are hearty affairs such as Aberdeen Angus steak, Cullen Skink, (a thick seafood broth), and Abroath Smokies (haddock smoked over woodchips for a distinctive flavour).  Not to mention Haggis, not a wild-animal as some cheeky locals will have you believe, but minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served encased in a sheep’s stomach lining – perhaps not everyone’s ideal dish but should be tried at least once during your stay!  And of course if it’s a cold night there is no better a way to warm up by an open fire than with a nip of Scotland’s Water of Life – a “wee dram” of Whisky.

5. History, history and more history

Callanish Standing Stones - Isle of Lewis
Callanish Standing Stones – Isle of Lewis

The castles mentioned above are, of course, a stark reminder of Scotland’s turbulent past but there is so much history besides.  Why not visit the Scottish Borders to see the famous abbey ruins of Melrose Abbey, where Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried or the intriguing Rosslyn Chapel whose intricate carvings have been connected to the Knights Templar, freemasonry and the Holy Grail, most notably in Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code.  In Stirling you’ll find the towering Wallace Monument and the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, history that was brought alive in the 90s movie Braveheart whilst at Culloden Moor you can remember the infamous battle between Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland armies and the English forces.  And if this centuries-old history isn’t quite old enough for you then you can always travel to the Scottish Isles where you’ll find the beautiful Callanish Stones (Isle of Lewis) dating back to 3000BC or head to the Isle of Orkney to see the Neolithic dwellings of Skara Brae (predating the Egyptian Pyramids) the ancient tomb of Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar all built long before Stonehenge.

Scotland is a truly spectacular destination and the above five pointers are just the tip of iceberg – for further suggestions for your own voyage of discovery through Scotland ask your adeo Travel vacation expert and they’ll be happy to help.