Bliadhna Mhath Ùr, Happy New Year!
No, we've not gone mad - the 12th January marks the old new year in the Julian calendar, signalling the onset of a fresh year and still celebrated across some parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. In Gaelic tradition, Oidhche Challain begins tonight, though customs vary from place to place. On Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, for example, children dress up in home-made costumes and go door to door, reciting a Gaelic verse to request offerings.
Fire is a strong symbol of the New Year. On South Uist, a strip of sheep's breast dipped in wax is taken door to door, set alight and passed three times around each household member's head - if the flame goes out, it is said that the person holding it would not survive the year. In Burghead, Moray, villagers still perform the ''Burning of the Clavie", during which a barrel filled with wood and tar is lit on fire and carried through the streets, before being placed on the summit of a local hill. Households receive burning staves as the Clavie passes which they use to relight their fires, warding off evil spirits and bringing good health and prosperity for the coming year.
Some celebrations are more familiar, such as singing, ceilidhs, storytelling and First Footing. Trustee Morag pulled this description from The Highland Calendar and Social Life, a booklet written by our founder Barbara Fairweather:
’First Footing’’ is widespread. For this many families don’t go to bed but spend the time from midnight onwards calling and visiting friends. There they meet other friends doing likewise. Housewives will have had a busy time baking special food such as black bun, short bread and other Scottish fare for some days before Hogmanay. The health of the New Year and friends will be drunk and the baking eaten. Housewives would receive gifts. In fact it is a widespread custom to give something on entering a home around that date and small gifts are sometimes exchanged among friends. These are known as a ne’erday gift. It is still considered lucky if a dark haired man is the first to cross the threshold after midnight has struck. A fair haired woman is the least lucky.
However or whenever you celebrate, we wish you all the best for 2022!