Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration, although by all accounts, much wilder than how your average American rings in the New Year. Its roots go back so far that the origin of the word itself is no longer known, but it originated in deep winter celebrations of sun and fire, and moved from there into the Roman Saturnalia, a Baccanalian event if ever there was one. The Reformation drove much of the Hogmanay celebrations underground until the 17th Century, and in recent years, they have become far more extravagant even than what most of the 20th Century knew.
Hogmanay celebrations these days are large events, often held at castles. They include music of all sorts, rock bands, pipe bands, drinking, revelry, lots of kissing– it is New Year’s Eve, after all–fire ceremonies, swinging fire balls, fireworks, and singing of Auld Lang Syne. In smaller towns, Hogmanay may be celebrated with ceilidhs (dances).
One youtube clip shows “1000 Pipers” marching down the Royal Mile outside of Edinburgh Castle: 1000 Pipers Be prepared: this is a lot of bagpipes! And I’m saying that like it’s a good thing. It’s quite a sight to see so many marching in their kilts and sporrans, all playing together.
Scottish History at Suite 101 explains the reasoning behind the “first footing” tradition of it being considered good luck for the first person to cross your door at midnight to be a tall, dark-haired man: in the days of the Viking attacks, you didn’t want to see shorter, blonde men. They were often raiding, pillaging, and raping.
Interestingly, as I search for details on how Niall might have celebrated at Glenmirril, I find that, with the exception of a few sketchy paragraphs about old traditions, and no details as to just how old those traditions are, there is virtually nothing. There is plenty about medieval Christmases, but no mention of Hogmanay in the same period. As Niall lived just after the days of the Viking raids, he may have still been celebrating very much like their Yule, which is also thought to have been a strong influence on Scottish Hogmanay. He lived long before the Reformation that drove it underground, so chances are high that he did in fact celebrate it.
January 1, in medieval times, was not the new year. That happened in March, by the Julian calendar by which they still lived. For them, it commemorated the circumcision of Jesus which, according to Jewish custom, happened on the eighth day.
Only with January 6 did the medieval population conclude the Christmas season. It is on this 12th day after the birth of Jesus, that the wise men, the magi from the East, are said to have found him. They gave him gold for kingship, frankincense for the priesthood, and myrrh symbolizing death. It must have been a heart-breaking gift for Mary, knowing what lay in store for her newborn son. In remembrance of the gifts they gave, this was the day of gift-giving at that time.
Sources: http://dickens111.tripod.com/id14.html, http://theglaive.livejournal.com/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day, http://www.reliquary.co.uk/gedeonus/medyear.htm, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_xmas.htm, http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1075&context=historyfacpub, Children’s Literature…