Hogmanay: a Fiery Night

In previous posts, I've talked about Hogmanay and some of its customs.  Those which involve fire could be quite a lengthy post unto themselves.  There's keeping the home fire, there are bonfires, fire--torchlight--parades, and fire balls, and more.

Starting with the home fire, it was important not to let the fire in the hearth go out.  That would be bad luck, and as nothing is to leave the home at the turn of the year, for fear of luck going out of the house with it, neighbors were unlikely to give any fire from their own hearth.  For extra insurance, numerous candles might be lit to keep the flame.

Only trusted friends and family would be allowed near the fire, and charms would be said near it, as the switch from old year to new was believed to be a time when supernatural forces abounded.  And the brighter the flames, the better the luck for the new year.  Oh, to have a chemistry student tend the fire!

In Lewis, the youngest child of the house would be put on a lambskin and carried three times around the fire.  The symbolism was that the child was the Christ Child, or Lamb of God.

More detail is available, and more traditions regarding the family hearth at the Tairis site.

Torchlight parades, which can look like a river of flame from a distance, and fireworks are common.  Less familiar to some of us might be a fireball parade.  In this event, in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire--practiced there for over a hundred years--a piper leads men swinging fire balls.  These fire balls consist of chicken wire balls, about 2 feet in diameter, stuffed with flammable material, and attached to a three foot non-flammable chain.  (That part is important!)  At midnight, the balls are lit and swung over heads as the parade progresses up the High Street and back.  Any that are still ablaze at the end of the procession are thrown into the harbor.

Saining, an old custom practiced in the Highlands, is the blessing of home and livestock.  Early on New Year's Day, 'magic water,' that is, water from a 'dead and living ford,' (we don't mean the car) is sprinkled in every room, on the beds, and on all household members.  The house is then closed up tight, and branches of juniper set ablaze.  These are carried through the house (and byre, if you happen to have one) until the inhabitants begin to cough and sneeze.  At this point, the woman of the house flings open the windows, letting in cool air, the whisky bottle is opened, and New Year's Day breakfast is eaten.

Raise your hand if you'd love to go to Scotland and see some of these events!  I'm guessing I'd get arrested for swinging fireballs on my suburban street, no matter what night of the year I do it!

  • January 28: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Watch for details.
  • 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 252 piece puzzle of misty Glenmirril (aka Grant Tower at Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness.)
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If you liked this article, you might also like
The Medieval Christmas Season, Easter Carols, or
other posts under the SCOTTISH TRADITIONS and HOLIDAYS labels



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