More on Hogmanay

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year's Eve celebration that occurs in The Minstrel Boy, book 2 of The Blue Bells Trilogy.

Its roots go back so far that the origin of the word itself is no longer known for sure, but here are a few contestants that have been put forth to vie for the title of Root of Hogmanay:

  • Hoggo-nott, the Scandinavian word for the feast just before Yule.
  • Hoog min dag, the Flemish words for great love day (sounds more like Valentine's Day)
  • Haleg monath, Anglo-Saxon for holy month
  • oge maidne, Gaelic for new morning (but aren't there many of these in a year?)
  • Homme est ne, French for Man is Born.
My secret source calls this the most likely root of hogmanay, particularly given the Norman tradition of giving gifts at that time, referred to as hoguignetes.  It is recorded by Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693, that the Scots had a similar tradition of going door to door on New Year's Eve, giving gifts as they called, Hagmane!

hogmanay, new year's eve, new year's eve traditions, baccanalian, revelry, scotland, scottish traditions
We are more sure of the origins of the festivity itself, believing it originated in deep winter celebrations of sun and fire, and moved from there into the Roman Saturnalia, a Baccnalian event if ever there was one. The Reformation drove much of the Hogmanay celebrations underground until the 17th Century, and in recent years, they have become far more extravagant even than what most of the 20th Century knew.  Lesser known is that Christmas itself was forbidden after the Reformation--regarded as a 'Popish' or Catholic feast.  This left Hogmanay as a time of celebration and gift-giving.

One old Hogmanay tradition that I'm sure would go over well in modern America was to dress up in cattle hide and run around the village, getting hit by sticks.  Or, to spell it out a little more accurately:

One man would dress in the hide of a 'mart cow,' meaning a cow killed on Martinmass (November 11).  This 'hide' included hooves and tail.  The other men would beat on the hide, raising ruckus, and pound on the doors of homes, calling for the occupants to come out.  When the door was opened, a song was sung asking to be let in.  This is one possible rhyme or song:

A Challain a’ bhuilg bhuidhe bhoicinn,
Buail an craiceann (air an tobhta)
Cailleach sa chill,
Cailleach sa chùil,
Cailleach eile ‘m cùil an teine,
Bior ‘na dà shùil,
Bior ‘na goile
A ‘Challainn seo:
Leig a-staigh mi.
The Callain of the yellow bag of hide,
Strike the skin (upon the wall) –
An old wife in the graveyard,
An old wife in the corner,
Another old wife beside the fire,
A painted stick in her two eyes,
A pointed stick in her stomach,
This Callainn:
Let me in, open this

Hogmanay celebrations these days are large events, often held at castles. They include music of all sorts, rock bands, pipe bands, drinking, revelry, lots of kissing-- it is New Year's Eve, after all--fire ceremonies, swinging fire balls, fireworks, and singing of Auld Lang Syne. In smaller towns, Hogmanay may be celebrated with ceilidhs (dances).

  • I will be co-hosting my first radio program at 950 AM on January 28.  Details to come.
  • I'll be reading and signing books February 10, 2017 at Magers and Quinn with Genny Kieley
  • There is currently a giveaway going on at my facebook page for a puzzle of the misty Glenmirril Tower.  Leave a comment here or at my facebook page to be entered.
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If you liked this article, you might also like
The Medieval Christmas Season, Medieval Easter Carols or
other posts under the SCOTTISH TRADITIONS label



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