Hogmanay: how to celebrate New Year's Eve in Scotland

Glasgow at night

Hogmanay is one of Scotland’s most important holidays and biggest celebrations, but where does the tradition come from, and how can you get involved in Edinburgh’s New Year festivities? Find out everything you need to know about Hogmanay in our guide. 

Edinburgh is home to one of the world’s most entertaining and exciting New Year’s celebrations: Hogmanay. The celebration is centuries old and regarded as one of Scotland’s most important holidays. With events and parties taking place all across the city, from traditional Scottish ceilidh dances to huge street parties and fireworks displays. 

Here to help you make the most of Hogmanay, we’ve uncovered its history, explored its traditions, and picked out some of the best ways to celebrate the festivities in Edinburgh to inspire your next visit. 

What is Hogmanay? 

Hogmanay is the Scottish name for New Year celebrations. The exact origin of Hogmanay’s meaning is disputed, but many believe it comes from the French word ‘hoginane' meaning 'gala day’. This suggests it could be a possible import from Mary, Queen of Scots, who returned to Scotland from France in 1561. 
In the past, Hogmanay was more widely celebrated than Christmas, which was only made a holiday in Scotland in 1871 after being abolished during the Protestant Reformation of 1560. 

Today, it is still one of Scotland’s most important cultural events and there are typically hundreds of Hogmanay celebrations throughout Scotland, with thousands of people taking in the festivities in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh

How long does Hogmanay last?

While many people believe that Hogmanay is just a term for New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay is actually a three-day-long celebration, with multiple traditions and festivities taking place across December 30th, December 31st and January 1st. 

Festivities begin on the day before New Year’s Eve, with traditional torchlight processions and outdoor entertainment. On New Year’s Eve itself, there’s huge street parties, fireworks displays and traditional Scottish ceilidh dances taking place across the country. 

Festivities typically end on the morning of New Year’s Day, with traditions like first footing, where visitors are invited into your home to mark the New Year immediately after the clock strikes midnight. There’s also the Loony Dook tradition where party-goers take part in a freezing swim in Edinburgh’s Firth of Forth. While the Loony Dook is an event specific to Edinburgh, the tradition of an outdoor swim in the sea or a river is replicated across Scotland. 

Where can I spend Hogmanay in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh’s main Hogmanay celebration takes place on Princes Street on December 31st. The city’s world-famous Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party sees thousands of revellers enjoy live performances, the traditional midnight countdown and fireworks displays. Previous street party headliners have included Scottish artists Biffy Clyro, Texas, KT Tunstall, Calvin Harris and Franz Ferdinand. 

If a street party isn’t for you, then there are hundreds of indoor events taking place across the city, including ceilidh dances featuring traditional Scottish music and dancing. One of the biggest Hogmanay ceilidhs in Edinburgh is the Hogmanay Snow Ball Ceilidh, hosted at the city’s famous Assembly Rooms.

Where else do Hogmanay events take place?

Although Scotland’s capital city plays host to many major Hogmanay events, one of Scotland’s longest-running Hogmanay celebrations takes place further up the east coast in a town called Stonehaven. 

The Stonehaven Fireball Festival celebrates an ancient tradition of villagers swingin fireballs down the High Street towards the shore, accompanied by a pipe band and drummers. It’s an event that’s been celebrated for over 100 years, with its origins lying in the ancient belief of purification by fire and encouraging the sun to return after midwinter. The procession is then followed by a fireworks display and parties throughout the village. 

Elsewhere, Scotland’s biggest free Hogmanay celebration takes place in Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, where the family-friendly Red Hot Highland Fling sees hundreds of people celebrate the New Year on the banks of the River Ness. 

What should I wear to Hogmanay?

If you decide to celebrate Hogmanay outdoors, it’s important to wrap up warm. Temperatures in Edinburgh during late December can drop to below freezing, so make sure you pack lots of layers including a warm coat, hat, scarf and gloves. 

If you decide to celebrate Hogmanay at a ceilidh dance, you can get into the spirit of things by wearing a kilt. The traditional Scottish dress can be worn by anyone, with kilt shops located throughout Edinburgh’s city centre offering traditional Scottish kilts for rent or purchase, ensuring you’ll look the part on Hogmanay. 

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