I must be getting old! Hogmanay, the big Scottish festival, and I just couldn’t be bothered getting dressed up to go out anywhere! Actually, the ‘big Scottish festival’ seems to be much in decline these days, and Christmas which was more of an English holiday seems to be taking over! Our Scottish heritage is gradually disappearing – in the south of the country at least – and the youngsters are embracing American and English culture instead! Well, maybe I shouldn’t say Hogmanay is disappearing when there is the famous Hogmanay party in Princes Street, Edinburgh each year, but the homelier celebrations with family and friends isn’t as it used to be!
I remember when I was about late teens/early 20s, I spent New Year with friends in the north west. On 31st December the household got up in the morning and started the preparations for the celebrations that night. The house was cleaned from top to bottom; sandwiches, sausage rolls and other finger food was prepared to last all day (and well into the night). The open fire had been cleaned out and a new fire laid – not to be lit till the new year bells, and everyone was sent in turn for bath and hairwash, to wash off the dirt of the old year. The family had very strict rules for Hogmanay! We were just by ourselves at that point, no visitors as yet, and filling our glasses with a drop of whisky just before midnight, we watched the Scottish TV programme till the bells rang out – from Big Ben in London! The back door was opened to ;et the old year out and the front door opened to welcome in the new one. We all wished each other a Good and Happy New Year, with hugs and kisses; the fire was lit and we waited for our first-foot, the name traditionally given to the first person to enter the house in the new year. Years of living in the same house with the same neighbours had led to their own traditions. The first foot was always John, from next door, who fitted the description of the perfect first foot, being tall and dark! He brought with him a piece of coal for the fire and a bottle of whisky, and everyone took a dram from his bottle. After a few more moments the neighbours from one house along, came in and the same thing was repeated. Gradually more neighbours appeared and Chrissie’s and Jack’s house was full of laughter and fun. After an hour or so, the party moved into John’s house next door, Iain, Chrissie’s and Jack’s son, first footing them. More food, more whisky…. on to the next house, picking up more revellers at each move! I think there was one more house visited by all, before the party split and the younger folk headed for Peter’s house and the older folk to another neighbour across the street. After that it was anybody’s guess where we went next. Generally there were invitations to this house or that, and sometimes we piled into cars and drove out of the town to a remote farm or other - no breathalyser or drink-driving laws in those days! We all survived to tell the tale, though some possibly didn’t remember the tale by next morning! One year, the ceilidh-ing (kayley – Gaelic for visiting and partying ) went on all that night and all the next day. A big party was held somewhere that night too , and we youngsters finally fell into our beds at 5.00a.m. on the morning of 2nd January. However, an arrangement had been made, so at 9.00 we were up again, and kitted out with warm clothes and sturdy walking boots; armed with rucksacks of food and flasks of coffee, we set off to climb a mountain! The six of us reached the summit, cobwebs well and truly blown away, and Peter brought out the much-looked-forward-to flasks of coffee. “Cheers! Slainte! “ I took one slug of mine and spat it all out again! Ugh! It had whisky in it! Now I like my whisky and at that time quite liked my coffee, but I did NOT like the two mixed! What a disappointment! I had been so looking forward to that hot drink! Maybe that was when I gave up drinking coffee, because now, I don’t drink the stuff at all!
Well, eventually, back down the hill we came, and after a meal we were off to yet another party at a hotel on the edge of town. Dancing and singing all that evening, but even we stalwarts had to call a halt! We were all home and in our beds, sound asleep by 1.30 a.m on 3rd January! I think some of us had to return to Edinburgh the next day, with college beginning again the day after, but I think the ceilidhs would have gone on for a day or two after we left!
They don’t celebrate New Year like that any more – or maybe they do and I’m, as I said before, just getting old, and don’t see it happening!!!!
Talk again soon – oh, and a Happy New Year to you!