Bye, bye Ne’erday!

For CCThis post is by Nancy Jardine

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.

13230465_sIn 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.
6413297_sOf 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.

20150102_183652 whiskyThe 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

x3 on black

historical romantic adventures;




Topaz Eyes is an Award Finalist mystery thriller

Nancy Jardine Award Finalist The People's Book Prize 2014


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You can find Nancy Jardine at her Blog ; WebsiteFacebook
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17 thoughts on “Bye, bye Ne’erday!

  1. What an interesting post, Nancy. I really enjoyed reading about traditions in your country. I like the idea of bringing fire as a gift. What a thoughtful gesture to wish the receiver heat for the New Year. I laughed when you told about the first person over the doorstep needed to have dark hair because those with light hair were thought to be of Viking Descent. Do any of those people ever dye their hair for the holiday so they won’t be seen as an outcast? Just wondering. Thank you for sharing this with us!


    1. Hi, Linda. I’ve never known of anyone specifically dyeing their hair to be dark back then 😉 (probably because hair dyes weren’t too common in th e1950s/60s) but it was common to make people who were light haired wait at the end of a group when a bundle of people entered a house. I’ve even knwn someone to delay admitting a blond haired guest if they knew a dark one was about to turn up. Cold and heartless though that would have been in the depths of winter, people were much more superstitious than now. It didn’t matter who came in after that dark ‘First Foot’ was over the threshhold. I was the darkest haired child/person in my tenement close/ block of apartments and was nearly always the one who was sent from door to door after ‘The Bells’ to wish the neighbours a Happy New Year.


  2. I love your fun stories about your traditions. As you know, I have a Scottish heritage (that I know nothing about-LOL). I remembrr your blogs from previous years. Thanks Cher’ley


    1. I could talk about the ancient ties that bind, Cher’ley… but it’s good for me to know of other people’s traditions since the US has a wonderful mixture.


  3. Nancy,

    I so enjoy reading about the traditions of other regions. Your description of how the traditions may or did come from I read with great anticipation. Wishing you a wonderful and profitable 2015 Doris


  4. Enjoyed your history lesson, Nancy. Lots of wonderful traditions in Scotland and all over Europe. Goes to show that the gift of gift-giving predates Christianity. I especially liked ‘First Foot.’ Got to be careful about those blond Viking men ready to skewer you.


    1. The tall dark and handsome hero has to be ingrained in me, Mike, since most of my heroes tend to be dark. My paternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a tall red-haired Celt of irish birth but only a DNA test would tell if any of that is tinged with the ;’dreaded viking’. 😉 Somewhere in the US, our Scottish tradtions would have been just as popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I’m sure. 😉


  5. Loved your historical blog. Made me wonder again how many really “pure” nationalities we have–there could be a little Viking, etc. in all of us! Very interesting anyway. It also reminded me of how traditions morph into different forms from country to country. Love learning about Scotland. Have English ancestors, but not sure about Scottish. Neva


    1. Neva- I also love the way traditions and customs have subtle changes from place to place till they morph into almost completely different ones, as you’ve mentioned. If you’ve English ancestry chances are there’s a Scot somewhere in the past.


    1. ‘Yer aye learnin’ ‘, Stephanie – meaning learning is lifelong and I’m always learning a lot from the Wranglers posts as well.


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