Throughout Scotland, the ancient festival of Hogmanay,is alive and well. The Scots are renowned the world over for the manner in which they celebrate the coming of a new year.
In Lewis, for instance, there has long since been a tradition that on Hogmanay the boys form themselves into bands. The leader of each band should wear a sheep-skin, while a member must carry a sack.
The bands then move from house to house, reciting a Gaelic rhyme. On being invited into the home by the woman of the family, the leader would walk clockwise around the fire, or around a chair in these modern times, while everyone else hit the sheepskin with sticks. The boys would be given some bannock for their sack, before moving on to the next house.
This is a local tradition, although similar ceremonies are carried out in South Uist. More common throughout the rest of Scotland is the traditional firing of guns at midnight, followed by the men setting out to "first foot" all those houses to which they know they are welcome. The minimum requirement is a bottle of whisky and a bannock of oatcake, and it is this tradition that is almost universal.
The origins of these Scottish customs are as ancient as they are diverse. The very fact that Scotland chose to celebrate the New Year in preference to Christmas is said to have its roots in the Kirk, which viewed the Christmas celebrations as "popish and superstitious." The name "Hogmanay" is itself controversial. It is said variously to come from the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath (Holy Month), or the Gaelic oge maidne (New Morning). Whatever the origin of the name, it has been integral to Scottish culture for many centuries.
In all the traditions and customs surrounding Hogmanay, one theme predominates: the new year must begin on a happy note, with a clean break from all that may have been bad in the previous year. It is from this underlying hope that the most common of all Hogmanay traditions has its root, that of the new year resolution.
Some years ago, Glasgow City Council started the countdown to Hogmanay celebrations by plunging œ75,000 into the "party of all parties." More than 50,000 revellers are expected to flock to the city centre to ring in the New Year in spectacular style. The public drinking ban has been lifted, and partygoers can celebrate by dancing in the streets until 6 AM on New Year's day.
The city will come alive at 8 PM on December 31, to the sounds of hip hop, latino and jazz dance music. This will be followed by a traditional ceilidh and Seventies tunes. There will also be a special pink stage show with performers and bands specifically for the gay community. On the stroke of midnight, a breathtaking fireworks display will explode over Glasgow to mark the beginning of 1998 in spectacular fashion. A lone piper will play the traditional Auld Lang Syne.
In Edinburgh, Hogmanay celebrations attracted over 400,000 people from around the world last year. This year, the event will run from December 29 to January 1 and all the established favourite events from previous years will be happening with a torchlight procession, fire festival, Hogmanay carnival, street theatre spectacular, Hogmanay food fair, kid's Hogmanay, New Year revels and New Year's Day triathlon.
When tickets went on sale for the event, over 2,500 people lined-up for three hours to acquire coveted tickets. Calls to the telephone ticket hotline overwhelmed the system with most people getting the British Telecom message: "there is currently a high demand for this destination."