Happy 3rd January!
Hogmanay and Ne’erday are now past and gone but the convivial greetings for the year to come will continue to be exchanged in my part of the world for a number of days in January.
But what’s this Hogmanay and Ne’erday?
The etymology of the word ‘Hogmanay’ isn’t totally certain but the word’s been used in Scotland to describe the 31st December for centuries. A popular meaning given to Hogmanay in Scotland is that of it referring to ‘a gift’ and especially ‘a gift of good luck’.
A word referring to the tradition of bearing a gift of good luck on 31st December has been used in parts of mainland Europe since very early times. In Spain, it was ‘aguinaldo’ . The word ‘aguillanneuf’ was taken from France to Britain during the Norman invasion of 1066; though at this time the word acquired an ‘h’ at the beginning and was written as ‘haguillanneuf’. In 13th century Catalan, it was written as ‘guinaldo’. None of those sound like Hogmanay to me, but the words all referred to the same tradition of gift giving. In Scotland, over the following centuries, the word evolved to Hogmanay.
In St. Hilaire de Chaleons, near Nantes in France the ceremony known as Courir la Guillanneuf is currently being revived, since in recent decades the practice had almost faded into obscurity.
Other possible derivations of the word Hogmanay include the Flemish ‘hoog min dag’ meaning ‘a day of great love’, and the Anglo-Saxon ‘haleg monath’ meaning ‘holy month’.
Since many Doric words of north east Scotland, and Laland Scots of the Central Lowlands of Scotland (both strong dialects in their own right, and peppered with many non-English words) have some Flemish and Dutch origins, I personally favour the Dutch one which sounds the most similar to Hogmanay.
Of course, the bearing of a gift for good luck to the household on the 31st December is much older than any of the above uses of the word. In pagan societies, bearing a gift to the householder was a common practice. Pagan winter celebrations, especially around the winter solstice, included bringing the gift of fire making. A log was carried over the threshold symbolising the potential for the return of the sun after the darkest days had passed- i.e. after the winter solstice of 21st December.
The Vikings brought their Christian-related Yule log traditions to Britain- again symbolising a gift like the sun’s warmth.
Ne’erday (pronounced in Glasgow as NER day) was the commonly contracted form of New Year’s Day and was used when I was growing up. Today, people in Scotland still use the word Hogmanay but the use of Ne’erday is sadly fading into disuse. I’ve written posts for this Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog in previous years describing what happened to me in my youth at Hogmanay and Ne’erday- a search of this blog might find those details – but by the 1950s and 1960s coal had supplanted the log as a gift given over the open door of the visited house, coal being the widely used form of heat production from the open fires in the houses.
A tall, dark haired, good looking visitor was commonly preferred for a ‘First Foot’ because a blond haired guest was thought to be unlucky, probably harkening back to the blond Viking raider that no-one wanted entering their house at any time, far less New Year! A small bite to eat (fruitcake, shortbread or black bun) usually accompanied the gift of coal to signify good wishes for the household to be healthy and wealthy enough to afford to eat during the coming year. ‘First footing’ traditions still continue in many places which I’m delighted about.
This year our ‘First Foot’ on New Year’s Day was a friend of my daughter who visited with her family. It was brilliant to have them as the first guests over the door since Sarah is very dark haired! The lump of coal that I had conveniently left on the doorstep was ‘gifted’ to us as well as other edible goodies and the now more traditional bottle of wine.
The children, in my young days, toasted the New Year with ginger or blackcurrant wine and the adults tended to toast with whisky for the men and the more genteel sherry for the women. Though I’m Scottish through and through I’ve never managed to like whisky! Sarah opted for a cup of tea since her littlest one is not yet two years old – and drink driving laws are now very strict in Scotland.
My husband likes an occasional Single Malt tipple but also likes to try new whiskies. These are this year’s selection.
Slainthe Math! This means ‘cheers’ in Scottish Gaelic (my apologies for not being able to type the special characters over the vowels- I haven’t learned how to do that)
(On Hogmanay 2014, I blogged about Hogmany and Ne’erday with a little more information and images. If you’re interested click here: BLOG)
Wishing you all a Happy New Year and a great weekend!
Nancy Jardine writes
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