Tame Hogmanay


Moonrise ower Wyre fae Evie

Orkney’s New Year traditions are no whit they used tae be. In the last twenty year, the tradition o First Footan his aalmost completely died oot. It used tae be that ye could visit any hoose in yur neighbourhood eftir the bells, sure o a warm welcome, a dram and some supper.

Gangs o young folk wid waander fae wan hoose tae anither and anither – the length o a parish or a small isle. A neebor tells me that when he flit intae his new hoose in the West Mainland in the late eighties he hid a hunder visitors the first New Year.

The celebration wis immense, and the drinking wis legendary. It wis aal the better because ye didna ken who might turn up, or whit might happen. When Hogmanay came roond there wis a mixture o trepidation and excitement. Gossip and funny stories were repeated, and it gaed ye a rare chance tae sit doon and enjoy the company o neighbours, freends, and family. Ye took a peedie gless o whisky, and moved on kweekly. It wis unpredictable, and it wis great fun.

Nooadays, half the country hooses are inhabited by folk belonging tae the new, mobile, professional class. A lot o rural Orkney is effectively a commuter belt for workers in the Toon, and many o these folk set off on the first boat sooth when the Christmas holidays begin. There’s no the same critical mass o likeminded neebors sharing an Orcadian culture. Wur traditional fower- or five-day-long festival o wild daftness his geen wey tae controlled family ‘New Year’s Eve’ parties, tae planned ‘open hoose’ nights, or, worst o all, tae Tesco Kirkwall urging us tae ‘celebrate Hogmanay’ – but whit dis Tesco really ken aboot Hogmanay, apert fae the name?

I’m minded o George Mackay Brown and Ernest Marwick writan oot lists o things they hid seen disappear fae Orkney in thur lifetimes. These writers hid a romantic urge tae record the last o things as they remembered them: workan watter mills; strings o sillocks dryan in the wind; rare Orkney words. Hoo sad it will be if we hiv tae add ‘Hogmanay’ and ‘First Footeen’ tae this evocative list.

So, Ah’ll be settan oot shortly tae First Foot wan or two o the neebors wae a bottle o whisky and a couple o funny stories Ah’m heard lately. I hope ye’ll mibby brave the cowld waather and dae the same yersels. A Happy New Year tae ye, beuys and lasses!



2 thoughts on “Tame Hogmanay

  1. Hids no completely gone, here in Marwick, the Marwick men went to Sandwick on the 1st and opened their doors on the 2nd, we fed 186 with mince and clap shot on 2 nd Jan 1972, up until last year we regularly had 70 to 80 on the 2 nd, last year we had around 40 , we expect this year will be even less. But there are still houses in Marwick with open doors on the 2nd, you’d be most welcome, although sadly we no longer make Clap shot and mince although Netherskaill makes a mean Taj Mahal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The youngeens fae the kirk keep going until breakfast, we set a time limit o’ no entry efter 3am. Peedie limmers hide outside the door and ring the bell deid on three! Soup is no welcome as efter the first three hooses they are seen more soup than is good for a buddy. The silly games are fest and furious until they leave and we search for the guid man o’ the hoose. Wan year we discovered him sleepan in the garage, in the back o a car.


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