19th December 2016
New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest celebratory events in the British calendar and it’s usually marked with an abundance of all good things – plenty of food, friends, fireworks and a glass (or three, or four) of something cold and fizzy, all in the spirit of bonhomie. But it hasn’t always been about throwing, or attending, the party of the year. Although it’s always been marked and observed, New Year’s Eve traditions throughout Britain are as varied and curious as you could hope for.
Mainly practiced in Scotland and the North East of England the tradition of first footing is still alive and well today. To promote good luck throughout the coming year the ‘first foot’ or the first person who crosses the threshold of the house after midnight, should ideally be a dark haired man carrying a piece of coal, salt, a dram of whisky and a piece of shortbread or Scottish black bun – all symbolic for a good coming year.
Fire festivals date back to pagan times where bonfires and torch lit processions were ablaze to welcome in the New Year. They’re still practiced today; Allendale in Northumberland sees a procession of 45 ‘guisers’ carrying whisky barrels filled with burning tar. The Perth and Kinross village of Comrie in Scotland hosts the Flambeaux Procession where at midnight birch poles covered with burning tarred rags are carried around the streets behind a traditional pipe band. Fireballs Festival in Stonehavens, Aberdeenshire in Scotland is not for the feint-hearted with around 50 people swinging flaming fireballs around their heads.
Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the final day of the year and it’s celebrated in a rather big way all around the country. Expect street parties, fireworks, live music and plenty of fun. One of the largest celebrations can be found in Edinburgh where the whole of Princes Street is closed for a night of partying.
The Welsh tradition of Calennig is to give gifts at New Year, the gift being a calennig – an apple decorated with dried fruit, cloves, sprigs of evergreen and three twigs and believed to bring good luck. Calennig is also a version of Scottish Hogmanay party the largest being in Cardiff.
How will you be ringing in the bells this year?