Scottish New Year Traditions
An old Scottish New Year tradition was First Footing – all you had to do was grab a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky and visit your neighbour to “see in” the New Year. This tradition is thought to date back to the Viking times and is quite quaint and sedate, but in modern times some of our New Year traditions have become a little bit crazy…..
This spectacular display takes place in the town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. Roughly 40 people take part and at the stroke of midnight, the fireballs are lit and are whirled around by those brave enough to take part in the procession along the High Street. The balls are made from wood and fabric soaked in paraffin and then enclosed in wire mesh. The procession takes around half an hour and the balls are hurled into the sea at the end. The origins of the tradition are unclear, but it has now become a popular tourist attraction. If you can’t attend the procession, there has been a webcam allowing remote viewing in the past which will hopefully be running again this year and the link is here. You can check out previous processions online by clicking here.
The Ba’, Kirkwall, Orkney
The game begins at 1pm on New Year’s Day when the Ba’ is thrown up from the Mercat Cross outside St. Magnus Cathedral. Two teams, Uppies and Doonies try to get the Ba’- a leather ball filled with cork handmade by local craftsmen- to their respective home goals. For Uppies it’s at the far end of the main street opposite the catholic church, and for Doonies it’s Kirkwall Harbour. If the Ba’ “gaas doon” then the players are expected to jump into the harbour. It’s a contest of scrums, pushing, shoving, fast sprints and sneaky smuggles. Where your allegiance lies used to depend on where you were born with Uppies being born south of the cathedral and Doonies born north of it. Now with many women being sent to Aberdeen to give birth, most men play on the side their father or grandfather played on. The game mostly takes place on the town’s main streets with businesses and homes boarding up their properties to prevent damage.
There are no rules, and a game can last for many hours with little movement of the scrum. Only when a team member manages to get the Ba’ to the outer players can a fast break or smuggle (up a player’s jumper) take place. It is then chaotic with those in possession of the Ba’ trying to get as close as possible to their goal whilst throwing the opposition off the trail by using the winding lanes in Kirkwall’s streets.
Once the winning team has reached their goal, the Ba’ is presented to a member of the team-usually someone who has participated for many years. It’s a lot easier to watch than take part in-click here to watch the Ba’ from a previous year.
The Loony Dook, South Queensferry
Held on New Year’s Day, The Loony Dook is a charity event requiring the participants to dip into the freezing cold waters of the Firth of Forth. The name comes from two Scots words, loony (a crazy person) and dook (to bathe or take a dip).
The first Loony Dook took place in 1986 when some friends suggested it would be a good hangover cure. The following year it became a charity event with proceeds going to local charities such as RNLI Queensferry. Over the years the event grew to include a fancy dress parade and became so large it had to become an organized event. Each year thousands of onlookers come to watch participants who are greeted by pipers and offered hot porridge before taking the plunge.
The event has caught on in other Scottish seaside towns along the Firth such as North Berwick, Kirkcaldy and St. Andrews so if you can’t make it to South Queensferry, then you may be able to catch the action at a different venue. If you prefer to stay warm and dry at New Year then click here to view a previous Loony Dook from the comfort of your home!
By Vivienne Hamilton
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Read more about Scottish Traditions with this post on Burns Night.