Its so hard to believe that nearly thirty years have passed since we lived in Scotland.
While we were there, we immersed ourselves in the local culture as much as we could given a very hectic work schedule at Holy Loch. But Debbie and I spent as much time as we could traveling around the country and experiencing all that we could. It remains one of my favorite memories of my career in the Navy.
The Scots invented many things over the years that have proven quite useful to mankind. The list of inventions and innovations is enough to make your head spin, so suffice it to say that they were (and are) a very clever people. See more here:
One of my favorite inventions though, is the Celebration of Hogmanay.
There are many legends of how the celebration came about. Hogmanay’s beginnings may harken back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, probably incorporating customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The Vikings (or what we call uninvited guests in my side of the house) celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the “Daft Days” as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The whole winter festival program went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but came back with a vengeance near the end of the 17th century.
Throughout Scotland it is celebrated in many different ways but one of the most common customs is known as First Footing. This invention is nothing less than pure genius. The first person who steps across your doorstep is supposed to set the stage for your luck for the rest of the year. That person will traditionally bring a gift such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder.
Food and drink (as the gifts) are then presented to the guests. This may go on throughout the wee hours of the morning and well into the next day. I can’t prove this but I have even heard that the celebration now can extend into the middle of the month of January… Brilliant!!!
Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot. (There are some neighborhoods in the US where this may actually not be a good thing but tradition is tradition).
One Hogmanay custom which has spread almost the world over is the singing of the Robert Burns classic “Auld Lang Syne”. It is common for the participants to link arms and sing it at the first stroke of midnight. Most people who have heard it before can be seen to tear up a bit… especially if they got a jump on the first footing custom.
The world could use a little Hogmanay. We could all use a blessing for our lives and homes. Our country is a blending of many wonderful cultures and the ability to bring the best of those cultures into our homes without destroying our American culture is one of our strengths.
But tonight, as American as I am, I will probably be listening to Black Watch recording of Auld Lang Syne.