It’s almost Christmas by Bill Storie
Well not quite. Only 363 days to go until the next time we eat, drink, and open presents.
I know that some people look forward to Christmas starting back in October for example. I’ve never understood that, but if it appeals to some, then so be it. The crescendo of excitement as December 25th approaches seems to increase daily, then crash. Once the big day is behind us we seem to enter a period of deflation and lethargy.
Many years ago, when I lived in Scotland the Christmas festival was enjoyed but it was only a dress rehearsal for the big one – New Year. In fact, the expression we used was “Hogmanay”.
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year’s Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish bank holiday.
The origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but it may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, with special attention given to the first-foot, the first guest of the new year.
So, in other words New Year’s Eve was the big celebration. People would start to gather at family or friend’s houses around 8 pm and have a meal. Some folks of course would believe that a “meal” on this night of the year consisted of whisky followed by beer. The next course would be whisky, and more beer. Dessert would be, yup you guessed it, whisky and more beer. After-dinner drinks would usually whisky and beer !!
By the time “the bells” rang out (midnight when the church bells and Big Ben would tell us that we were in a new year), the party would be in full swing. Traditional songs would be sung – Auld Lang Syne
“Auld Lang Syne” (note “s” rather than “z”) is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight.
Beyond midnight would be a free-for-all. Groups of people would congregate in small corners singing one song, while in another corner other groups would be singing another song. Ironically many would actually be singing the same song but completely unaware of the competition across the room. Some folks would be drinking alone, quite happy in the knowledge that they had survived another year. Some folks would be chatting but be assured that EVERYone would be drinking.
I have actually witnessed people getting so drunk that as the night progressed they would begin to drink themselves sober. Unbelievable, but true.
At around 2 in the morning some idiot would suggest we all drink soup. How bizarre.
By 3 in the morning, some folks would be prostrate on the floor with other people having to step over them to get to the toilet, or the kitchen, or the bar. Strangely though while many would chuckle at those on the floor, within an hour or so, some of the chucklers would be lying beside them. The wild night was slowing down.
The trick was to see sunlight. If you made it to daybreak you declared it “the best ever New Year”.
I remember one year when my mum, dad and I were at a neighbour’s house for the bells, we insisted that the man of the house came back with us to be our “first foot”. He would bring a bottle of whisky with him to toast our family when inside the house, and cross our doorstep before we did.
As we approached the path to our house, he slipped on the ice and went down.
“Good God,” he exclaimed, “I hope it’s blood.”
So, if you anticipate a wild New Year’s Eve just remember the challenges us Scots have to face to keep up with tradition and heritage.
“Here’s tae us, Damned few and they’re a’ deid” (another Scots phrase often used at this time of year)
A Guid New Year.
By Bill Storie