Friday, December 30, 2016

A NEW YEAR...A NEW BEGINNING

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

I don't know about you, but I am so ready for the New Year.

I had thought to share a memory of Christmas past, but since we are now hours away from New Year's Eve, my thoughts are rather preoccupied looking forward not back.

For most of the world, the evening of December 31st is spent with a focus on merriment. For some, it is a day to dress up in elegant clothing and attend a formal Gala at a first class hotel. For others, their tradition might mean bundling up in warm clothing and gathering in places like New York's Times Square eagerly awaiting -- with a crowd of other people -- the countdown that signals a giant crystal lighted ball to drop at midnight. You might be at Walt Disney World on a family vacation watching a grand fireworks display. But whether you are in a crowd, a small gathering of friends, or spending a quiet evening at home with family, we all have one thing in common. At the stroke of midnight, the world bids farewell to the passing year and celebrates the dawning of a New Year with optimism, good wishes, and hope.

So, it is with a hopeful heart that I would like to share with you the New Year's Eve tradition that I look forward to each year, one that embraces my Scots heritage. It even has a special name.

Hogmanay!

Meaning the “last day of the year”, Hogmanay is an old, much loved custom in the Highlands of Scotland. It dates back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice among the Norse, but also encompasses Gaelic customs used at Samhein.

It is important to remember that numerous Scots traditions and customs (particularly in the Highlands) are intertwined with those of the Norse.

Why is that, you might ask? Many people of Scots heritage are descendants of Vikings who crossed the North Sea to invade Scotland. As a result, Norse influences are still prevalent in the culture and traditions of Scotland today.

The customs practiced at Hogmanay actually begin at dawn on December 31st. After a small breakfast, Scottish homes are cleaned from top to bottom until they are spotless. Or, spick-and-span as my mother used to say.

Items are then placed about to symbolize what you would like to happen in the New Year. For example, a plate might be set out with coins for prosperity and other symbols for health, love, and protection.

When the clock strikes midnight, windows and doors are opened to welcome the New Year. A feast (or buffet in our house) is set for all to enjoy. And I mean "all". No one is turned away. And since it is a tradition in the Highlands for adults to go door-to-door singing or shouting Hogmanay, quite a crowd could be expected...which brings me to the Scots tradition of "first footing".

Basically, first-footing means the first person who crosses your threshold after midnight on New Year's Day. Traditionally, he (or she) should come bearing gifts such as: salt, shortbread (yum!), whisky, and a black bun (the dense, rich Scottish fruitcake). Another one of my favorites is the Clootie Dumpling, a dessert pudding made with flour, sugar, sultanas, currants, spices, and treacle

The gifts are intended to bring luck to the house and the family in the New Year. Naturally, in return, food and drink are offered to your guests.

It can become quite the Céilidh (party) as everyone who wants to be the first-footer shows up. Before you know it, you have a house full of guests – as well as lots of delicious goodies. Oh, and if a tall, dark (preferably handsome) man is your first-footer, needless to say that brings the best luck of all! On the other hand, should a fair-haired man show up on your doorstep, the luck may not be so good; they are a reminder of the Viking invaders.

Of course, no gathering would be complete without everyone singing Auld Lang Syne, the traditional New Year's anthem written by the famous Scots poet, Robert Burns. And lest you think I jest about the level of merriment and partying for Hogmanay, in Scotland, the day after New Year's, January 2nd, is also a holiday...no doubt a much appreciated day to recover from overindulgence.

Among the most popular traditions upheld today are the torchlight processions throughout the Highlands. Granted, this is not something I do in my Texas neighborhood.

However, in Edinburgh, you very likely would see "A bunch of noisy, hairy Vikings and Scottish highlanders dragging a Viking warship, as they lead a 15,000 strong crowd bearing flaming torches". Traditionally, they walk (along with pipers) from historic Parliament Square on the Old Town's Royal Mile, down the Mound, along Princes Street and Waterloo Place, and up to the ancient Edinburgh meeting ground Calton Hill. Phew! Talk about a hike! If you won't be in Edinburgh, fear not, most cities, towns and villages in the Highlands will have a torchlight procession. The procession ends with everyone helping to ignite a roaring bonfire.

The bonfire itself has a long history and great importance at Hogmanay. It represents everything from the Sun and driving away evil spirits, to how light will always conquer darkness, and the belief that the bonfire will secure happiness and luck in the New Year. The bigger the bonfire, the better the luck. In fact, great care is taken to ensure the bonfire does not go out. Since everyone in the towns and villages carries a torch to light the bonfire, determined that the tradition be upheld by the entire community, it would be a terrible omen of bad luck should the bonfire go out before sunrise.

Although we all might have a special way we celebrate the New Year, one thing is certain. At midnight with the tolling of church bells or clock chimes, whether you celebrate with dinner for two and a Happy New Year kiss, or music, merriment, and fireworks at a festive large gathering, we will all be embracing the promise of a new beginning in a New Year.

It is my heartfelt hope that 2017 will be a year of peace, unity, prosperity, health, and happiness for you, your loved ones, your community, your country, and our world.

And if you are interested in reading a little romance involving a Texas librarian who receives an unexpected inheritance in Scotland, and opens her door on Hogmanay to a very mysterious first footer, you might want to check out INTO THE MIST, scheduled for release in 2017.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Or, as they say in Scotland...Bliadhna Mhath Úr . ~ AKB

PS: If you would like the chance to win a signed copy of one of my books, please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com/newsletter-mailing-list .

9 comments:

  1. I certainly enjoyed reading your Scottish tradition of celebrating the New Year. And I didn't know that the famous New Year's song, Auld Lang Syne, that we've always enjoyed singing was written by a Scot. Wishing you and yours a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

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    1. Thank you, Cheri. As for Auld Lang Syne, here is a wee bit more information. Ask any Scot and they credit Robert Burns as author. In truth, it is a Scots poem written by Burns in 1788 and the music is from a traditional folk song. However, if we want to dig deeper, Robert Burns sent the song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788, and said it was an ancient song that should be remembered and preserved in print. Before then it had never been written down, and he asked an old man to help him recall the exact words (no doubt over a drink or two). As it is with many old tales and songs passed down orally from generation to generation, the words may change slightly in the repeated telling. Some of the words were "collected" by Burns and compared with the remembrances of others, but the song is readily attributed to Burns, especially since his "voice" and style of writing is clearly an influence. So, although we will never know when or who first said "Should auld acquaintance be forgot...", we credit Burns as the author for being the first to write it down in print, as well as any "embellishment" "editing" and additional verses he added. Anyways, on New Years and Burns Night in Scotland (where Scots gather to eat, recite Burns' Presentation of the Haggis, a dram of whisky is raised to toast Robert Burns and we all sing Auld Lang Syne. Not many know all the verses or understand what they mean, but it is because of Robert Burns we have it at all. Just wanted to clarify the origin of the song. Happy New Year to you and yours, too!

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  2. Thanks for the "wee bit"(could here the Scottish accent) more information about the song. Fun knowing about it when I sing it tomorrow night! LOL

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  3. I truly enjoyed reading these Scottish traditions for New Year's. Seems like so much fun and had a warm, friendly way about it. Lots of celebratory food and a torch procession were two of my favorites.
    My family always has a traditional meal on the first day of the year, a meal that, of course, is symbolic of what we'd like to expect in the new year, but also a meal that gets us back to our daily lives and away from the rich, almost too bright celebrations of Christmas. I like the peace and quiet contemplation a new years brings on the first day.
    I wish for you and yours a wonderful and love-filled New Year, Ashley. "Slan's beannochd!" (Gaelic: Health and a Blessing!)

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Sarah J. I agree about the peace and quiet on New Years' Day. I got up to watch the sunrise. I hope the new year is filled with blessings for you and your family.

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  4. I love all of these traditions. My Mother's parents both come from Scottish roots so maybe traditions run in my genes. I get the Viking genes from my Danish grandparents so guess I have a double whammy.

    Wish you and the rest a Happy New Year. Thanks for a memory walk through Hogmanay.

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    1. Happy New Year, Paisley. Nice to know my post brought back happy memories of Hogmanay for you. Very often traditions are passed down through so many generations, we forget what they symbolize. I think anyone (like us) that loves history is always enchanted by customs and traditions of long ago. I wish you health, happiness, and all good things in the new year and beyond. :)

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  5. I love reading about the old Scottish traditions. "First-footing" is a new one to me. Thanks for sharing this enchanting custom!

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    1. Happy New Year, Lyn. Oh, the "first footer" is my favorite part of Hogmanay. Remember that game Mystery Date? My older sister had that game. For some reason, opening the door to the "first footer" after midnight reminds me of that game. She always got the guy in a tux. Me? Never. Haha Then again, looks can be deceiving, as they say. Maybe that is why the "first footer" in my new book INTO THE MIST was such fun to write. Have a wonderful 2017! :)

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