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What are Scotland’s New Year Traditions?

Lang May Yer Lum Reek


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One of our pièces de résistance and traditionally a much bigger shindig than any of our Christmas festivities, Hogmanay in Scotland is a sight to behold – and an exhilarating celebration if you’re a tourist attending one of the traditional New Year fire festivals, or a local bundled up in all your thermals at Edinburgh’s famous street party, waiting for the midnight fireworks to go off with a bang alongside 80,000 other revellers. Whether it’s live music, a fiery sky, or simply sharing a dram with the neighbours that interests you on the 31st, here are some now traditional ways to bring in ‘the bells’ around Scotland..


Definitely one of the most famous Hogmanay traditions, first-footing sees friends and family heading over to each other’s abodes just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. The first person to cross a house’s threshold in the New Year is known as a first-foot, and must bestow a Hogmanay offering, or else the homeowner is at risk of bad luck for the rest of the year. Popular gifts that cross hands at the midnight hour include shortbread, black bun (a traditional Hogmanay fruit cake topped with pastry) and whisky.

The Loony Dook

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One of the more bonkers (as the name might suggest) Scottish traditions to mark the year ahead is the frankly shiver-inducing practice of sprinting into the waters of the Firth of Forth on 1st January, to take part in the annual Loony Dook. Alongside the stunning backdrop of the Forth Bridge, hundreds of Scots in fancy dress attempt to let the freezing cold clear their Hogmanay heads as they take a quick dip in the sea, with the sound of celebratory bagpipes as they test their resistance to the chilly temperatures.

Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony

Traditionally performed to symbolise the casting away of evil spirits for the year, Stonehaven is renowned for its dazzling Hogmanay fireball ceremony, when the main High Street of the northern town fills up at midnight with a procession of around 45 fireball swingers, holding chains encased in flickering balls of fire. Afterwards, the burning ‘wire cages’ are taken to the harbour and thrown into the water, prompting the beginning of a stunning New Year firework display.

Ba’ Game

Kirkwall’s Ba’, a mass game of football played in the streets of the Orcadian capital on New Year’s Day, is a sporting tradition hailing from the 1800s. The aim of the many participants who get involved in the Ba’ is to keep hold of the elusive leather ball, with two teams competing for ultimate victory – the Uppies and the Donnies – with the team you join historically being based on what part of the island you’re from. The Ba’ is thrown into the excitable crowd of several hundred, and the game finishes when it reaches the goal of either team.

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Auld Lang Syne

Of course, it wouldn’t be Hogmanay without the words of our national Bard to keep us looking forward to the year ahead. Who can resist swaying along to the song’s familiar melody when they hear that opening line, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot…”? Robert Burns’ poetry has wholeheartedly stood the test of time, and there’s nothing more friendship bonding than gathering in a circle and crossing hands and arms, ready to listen to the song together and move into the centre of the circle for the stroke of midnight. And there really isn’t a better time to share a piece of shortbread from your very own Robert Burns Tin.

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