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Hogmanay traditions old and new
Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa is held in several parts of the Northern Isles

The beginning of a new year is often a time of reflection and celebration.

There are customs and traditions which are believed to bring good luck including first-footing.

Events, some unique to a particular part of the country, are also held.

The exact origins of many are unknown. Take a look at some of them here and share your Hogmanay-themed traditions by e-mail:



The first person to enter a house after midnight on New Year's Eve is believed to affect the household's fortunes in the year to come.

Ideally a dark-haired man who carries a gift, usually a piece of coal or food such as black bun, is welcome. This will bring good luck for the next year as the gift symbolises prosperity.

Someone with fair hair and female is considered to bring bad luck.

Of course, food and drink is also offered to the first-footer and visits like this can go on until the wee small hours.

Clean house

We've all heard of spring-cleaning and many people also believe that a clean house is a necessity to welcome in the new year.

To begin one otherwise is considered bad luck. A tidy-up prior to any festive parties doesn't go amiss.

When open fires were common, clearing the ashes and laying a new fire for a new year was a good sign. So too, was the burning of juniper which was believed to ward off any evil spirits.

Cleaning the house also extends to clearing the debts and paying bills for those fortunate enough to be able to do so. Perhaps the less said about over-spending at Christmas the better.


Fireballs in Stonehaven
The flaming baskets are thrown into the sea at Stonehaven

Stonehaven heralds 1 January with fireballs.

A procession of around 40 people swing balls of burning material by wire or chains around their head.

The weight of the ball and chain means that it takes considerable strength to swing each ball.

Making their way along High Street, past Mercat Cross, before returning to the harbour where the fireballs are thrown into the sea. Crowds gather to witness this unique spectacle.

Ba' game

Kirkwall is the place to see the Uppies and Doonies take to the streets for the Ba' game on New Year's Day.

The leather ball is thrown into the crowd at 1300 and the rush to find it and pass it to the team begins.

There are dozens of people in each team, depending on which side of town you were born in, or where your family loyalty lies.

The game can go on for hours before the victors are announced.

Loony Dook

Swimmers by the Forth Rail Bridge
Revellers face the cold waters at South Queensferry

A substantial amount of resolve, stamina and willpower are required for participation in the Loony Dook. These brave swimmers take to the waters at South Queensferry in the name of charity.

Back on dry land, Biggar has its Hogmanay bonfire.

Although Edinburgh is renowned for its celebrations, which last for several days this year, other areas observe the beginning of a new year in their own way.

Burning of the Clavie

The Burning of the Clavie takes place in Burghead on 11 January.

The clavie, which is a half-cask is filled with wood shavings and tar, is set alight.

The elected Clavie King and his helpers parade the burning barrel around the town before it becomes a fire beacon on nearby Doorie Hill.

Those who have smouldering pieces of the clavie believe that it will bring good fortune in the forthcoming year.

Up Helly Aa

Not strictly Hogmanay related but worth a mention is Up Helly Aa.

Held in Shetland in January to celebrate Viking heritage, this is worth seeing.

A torchlit procession by the Jarl squad in Viking dress, led by the year's nominated chief, known as the Guizer Jarl, ends with the torches being thrown onto the replica longship which burns.

Do you have any particular customs and traditions which you'd like to share? E-mail:


In the meantime, savour your shortbread and steak pie. Good luck with the new year resolutions.


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