Joyous Hogmanay

I’m working this week.

Which is significant, because many of you are not and I’m beginning to feel like it’s against nature to be working now.

And no, it’s not a Christian thing. It’s a pagan thing, really.

When we visited Scotland a few years ago, we discovered the joy of hogmanay. We left the US on Christmas day and arrived on the morning after in Scotland. Boxing Day in the UK. Because we’d entered the zone that is Hogmanay, we discovered that many shops, galleries and what have you, were not open for most of our ten-day visit. Because Scotland pretty much shuts down business and parties through the dark days of the turning of the year.

“It’s Hogmanay,” people would say with a shrug, then offer us another drink.

When I asked what it meant, people would inevitably reply “New Year,” which was clearly not the case. They used it to mean the whole stretch of time from before Christmas to just after the New Year. And when I pressed them for which languague “hogmanay” came from and how it meant “New Year,” they couldn’t say.

So I looked it up.

There are many theories about the derivation of the word “Hogmanay”. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was “Hoggo-nott” while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) “hoog min dag” means “great love day”. Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. “Homme est né” or “Man is born” while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was “aguillaneuf” while in Normandy presents given at that time were “hoguignetes”. Take your pick! (From the Rampant Scotland website, which is really great.)

What it really means? “The time of year when you don’t work, you hang at home and eat and drink a whole bunch.” There’s an unabashed laziness to Hogmanay in Scotland that becomes joyous.

And more than a little pagan.

We stumbled upon the torchlight parade in Ediborough. Enthusiastic marchers thrust torches into our hands and we walked from Edinborough castle all the way to the Burns monument where they, I kid you not, set fire to wicker effigies of what appeared to be a Viking ship and a bear/dragon. (If you scroll down on the link above, you’ll see another pic of the parade, much like ours.) This site at least freely acknowledges that these are pagan festivities, though the Scots we asked tended to fob it off or deny it.

Scotland is dark this time of year. This is sunrise at 9am precisely. If you’re looking at, say ruins, you’ll want to wrap that up by 3pm or so, or you won’t see a damn thing.

Fortunately, there’s always a warm and cheerful pub nearby, with someone to hand you a drink and a cheerful urging to just enjoy Hogmanay.

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