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Articles by Marie Fraser of Canada

According to Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland (1994) edited by John Keay and Julia Keay: The name given to 31 December (or to gifts given and received on New Year’s Eve) is generally agreed to come from the Old French aguillanneuf, ‘last day of the year’, via the northern French dialect version of the same word, hoguianané. John MacTaggart, however, gives a more appealing derivation in his Gallovidian Encyclopaedia:

"I think hog-ma-nay means hug-me-now. Kissing, long ago, was a thing much more common than at present (1824). People in the days gone by saluted others in churches with holy kisses; and this smacking system was only laid aside when priests began to see that it was not holiness alone promoted their congregations to hold up their gabs to one another like Amous dishes, as Burns says. At weddings too what a kissing there was; and even to this day, at these occasions much of it goes on; and on the happy nights of hog-ma-nay the kissing trade is extremely brisk, particularly in Auld Reekie; then the lasses must kiss with all the stranger lads they meet, while phrases not unlike to ‘John, come kiss me now’ or ‘John, hug me now’ are frequently heard. From such causes, methinks, hog-ma-nay has started. The hugging day, the time to hug-me-now."

We call it New Year’s Eve, but exactly how did these events come about? In Scotland the official start of the New Year was changed to January 1 in 1600, while England and the rest of Europe stayed with the date of March 25 - until 1751, when the practice of double dating ended.

January 1 happened to fall in the middle of the Daft Days or the Twelve Days of Christmas, which ended with another party time - Twelfth Night. The twelve days coincided with the Druid Pagan Festival of Yule, hailing the Sun God’s return from a long exile to bring longer days.

First Footing referred to the practice of going from house to house with little gifts and a bottle of whisky or wine. The host, who was given a token gift and a drink from your bottle, in turn gave you a drink from his. The First Foot was the first person to cross the threshold after the last stroke of midnight on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve, embodying the spirit of someone bringing food and comfort to the house and good luck for the coming year. Of course, it was preferable for the First Foot to have dark hair, because fair-haired people were considered to be unlucky.

For Scots, Hogmanay is a festive time of year. The house is cleaned from top to bottom, usually starting in November when the first frost is in the air, and during the month of December the family bakes for the holidays, including a variety of cakes, shortbread, mincemeat pies and lemon tarts. Christmas is celebrated by going to church and on Christmas Eve the children hang up their stockings in front of the fireplace to be filled by Santa, although the real gift giving and exchange takes place on Hogmanay.

On Hogmanay the house is spotlessly clean and there is a special excitement in the air. Very little food is consumed after breakfast, except perhaps a snack of some kind, usually served with tea. The dining room table is set with the best china, cutlery and crystal. At midnight, the church bells ring and pipers usher in the New Year playing "Auld Lang Syne" with crowds of revelers following them. Doors and windows are thrown open to let the old year out and the new one in. Whisky and wine bottles are opened and all in the house are served a "wee dram" to toast the New Year. In our house it has become a tradition to offer a "wee dram" of The MACALLAN. J

In the old days, when the house had settled down again, the family sat down to a dinner of Scotch broth, steak pie, mashed tatties, green peas and mashed neeps, followed by cakes, pies and biscuits for dessert. After dinner the piano was played and the old songs were sung. The younger family members then packed little bags with packages of tea, pieces of coal wrapped in festive paper, and slices of cakes in little drawstring bags made from crepe paper, tied with coloured ribbons. A bottle of Scotch whisky and a bottle of Port or Sherry wine were put in the bag, and off they went on their First Footing; a custom that could go on all night, or for a week or two, if you had a large family.

In the old days, the roads were filled with travellers greeting each other, strangers stopping to shake hands, people singing and dancing with each other. It was then, and still is, a grand old custom. Is it any wonder then that so many expatriate Scots are drawn to Scotland each year to celebrate a tradition handed down from the Druids of old? Hogmanay is when Scotland becomes one huge party where everyone is related to everyone else, and everyone is welcome.

I was intrigued by John MacTaggart (1797-1830) Writer, and checked the entry about him in the same reference book:

MacTaggart was the author of The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopaedia, 1824, a rare and original work, the only other encyclopaedia of Scottish subjects known to the compilers of this one, and much admired by them… Sadly, the book had to be withdrawn as soon as it was published. An entry on ‘The Star of Dungyle’, a dazzling beauty who bestowed her favours freely only on ‘boxers and bruisers… and she would lay in barns with them at night’, clearly identified the lady as a Miss Herron. Her father threatened MacTaggart with an action unless all copies were immediately destroyed. A few, however, survived and there were small reprints in 1876 and 1981, the latter with an invaluable introduction by L.L. Ardern. After what must have been a terrible disappointment, MacTaggart returned to London, taught maths, tried to start a newspaper, and became a gas company engineer.

In 1826 John Rennie recommended him for the job of engineer on the Rideau Canal project in Ontario where he renewed his acquaintance with John Galt and whence he returned after three years to write a substantial book on Canada. A long poem, The Engineer, was in manuscript and an encyclopaedia of Canada in the offing when he died, still only 32, in his beloved Galloway. A contemporary described him as 6ft 2in (1.9m) and of majestic proportions. ‘He was fearless in asserting his opinions, hated duplicity, and his friendships were warm and lasting.’ Just so his Encyclopaedia.

I won’t go into the details of John Rennie (1761-1821) Engineer.

John Galt (1779-1839) Novelist, became secretary to the Canada Company in 1824. Between 1825 and 1829 he visited Canada as a member of a government commission investigating the issue of emigration, and in 1827 founded the town of Guelph in Ontario. In 1829 he returned to Britain facing massive debt, and spent several months in a debtors’ prison. On his release he settled in Greenock to write, and produced several novels over the next five years, his autobiography in 1833 and a series of sketches from his life.

Happy Hogmanay :-)

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