Christmas in North America is a month-long buildup of festivities, reflecting a melting pot of religious, cultural and secular traditions. New Year’s is more of an afterthought—one last party before getting back to business. In Scotland, however, Christmas is a low-key celebration with a buildup to New Year’s, called Hogmanay, the biggest party of the year.
It is believed the Scots inherited the celebration of Hogmanay from the Vikings and their celebration of the shortest day of the year. It didn’t hurt that in the late 1500s, the Scottish Reformation abolished Christmas. This lasted 400 years. Most Scots had to work on Christmas Day until the 1960s. In the early 1600s, they changed the date of New Year’s from March 25 to January 1, and began celebrating Hogmanay.
Christmas is still celebrated with family as a low-key affair, but then the Scots pull out all the stops for a two-day holiday.
Throughout Scotland, Hogmanay is filled with all kinds of festivals, parties, bonfires and, more recently, fireworks. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival lasts for days and includes one of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the world.
Some of the Scottish traditions have become part of our own New Year’s Eve celebrations. We sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight and make New Year’s resolutions, both invented by the Scots.