Laura Dean Bennett
Since many parts of the Appalachian Mountains were settled by the Scots-Irish, it’s them we have to thank for a great deal of our culture and traditions.
We know we have our Scottish ancestors and Robert Burns to thank for the tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve.
But most of us have forgotten, or never knew, about the Scottish New Year celebration called Hogmanay, which, in Scotland, has historically been more widely and more passionately celebrated than Christmas.
Prior to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, Christmas, or what was then called, Yule, was observed in Scotland
However, the Protestant Reformation in Britain forbade the celebration of what had been traditional Christian feast days.
The public celebration of Christmas was discouraged for hundreds of years by the Church of Scotland.
Until 1871, Christmas wasn’t even a public holiday and many people had to work.
But the ancient feast of Hogmanay, or New Year’s, was celebrated continuously.
Just as we might say, “Happy New Year,” Scots greet each other with the expression, “Haud Hogmanay” meaning, “celebrate the end of the old year.”
Of course, much of the merrymaking of Hogmanay wasn’t favored by the Church either, but Hogmanay resisted the disapproval and continued as a huge part of Scottish culture.
We’ve all used the expression “redding up the table” but may not have known the term “redding” originated in Scotland.
“Redding the house” is an annual pre-Hogmanay ritual when folks clean their houses from top to bottom to prepare to see the old year out, and bring in the new year because it’s thought to invite bad luck to go into the New Year with a dirty house.
And as any host or hostess knows, this dirty house thing isn’t just a superstition – when the holidays are coming and you’re expecting a houseful of company, it would be more than bad luck not to have your house cleaned!
Another pre-Hogmanay tradition was getting rid of all debt before midnight on the 31st. And how could that ever be a bad thing?
Just as most of us do to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Scots gather with family and friends for a holiday supper and a party which sometimes lasts until after the stroke of midnight.
A traditional Scottish Hogmanay toast is: “Lang may yer lum reek!” meaning “long may your chimney smoke.”
This toast originated hundreds of years ago when Scottish homes were heated with coal fires.
If the chimney was smoking, it meant that you could afford enough coal to keep the house warm in the winter.
Another hogmanay custom still common in Scotland is “first footing.”
Many families open the door to their home before midnight to welcome a “first-footer” into the house to ensure good fortune for the coming year.
Superstition dictates that in order to bring good luck to the house, the “first foot” over the threshold after midnight on Hogmanay should be a handsome, dark-haired man.
First footers often bring symbolic gifts such as coal, salt, black bun cake or whisky to guarantee safety, warmth and comfort to the host family for the coming year.
Making a first visit to friends and neighbors on New Year’s Day or “Ne’rday” (pronounced “Neerday”) and bringing a “handsel” (or gift) is still one of the most treasured traditions of Hogmanay.
These days, one of the most popular “first-foot” gifts is shortbread.
Many communities have a Ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”), which is a party which always includes music and singing, traditional dancing and, usually, storytelling.
There are street parties, torchlit parades and bonfires and sometimes fireworks.
At midnight, bells are rung in every Scottish town and village.
Right after midnight, it’s traditional for everyone to stand in a circle, link arms or hold hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
Of course, Hogmanay is a time when traditional Scottish food shares the table with many special delicacies.
A typical Hogmanay Supper or Ne’rday Dinner menu might include:
• Smoked Fish Pate
• Mince Pie
• Casserole of venison and rabbit, with shallots in red wine sauce topped with puff pastry
• Salmon en Croute
• Collops of Beef – medallions of beef – layered on haggis and topped by a whisky sauce
• A Vegetarian Crusty – Spinach and Ricotta in a herb pastry tart or Mushroom Tarts
And for dessert:
• Hogmanay Pie – usually a fruit pie made from preserved or fresh fruits
• Traditional Homemade Clootie Dumplin’
• Cranachan Meringue – sometimes called Cream Crowdie
• Black bun – a traditional Hogmanay cake which needs to be made weeks before as it needs time to mature.
And, certainly, no Scottish dessert tray would be complete without Shortbread.
All of the desserts might well be served with a dollop of Whisky Mac Cream – a combination of chilled cream, whipped with Scotch whisky and ginger wine.
Of course, one can never go wrong by accompanying one’s repast with a wee drop of Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky (often just called Scotch), sherry or port.
Cranachan Meringue (Cream Crowdie)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup fresh berries
1 Tbsp. dark rum (optional)
4 fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Spread oats out in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until nut-brown. Set aside to cool. Remove them from the pan for faster cooling.
In a medium bowl, whip the cream to firm peaks, but not grainy.
Gently fold in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and toasted oats.
Spoon into four serving bowls, and top with fresh berries.
Drizzle a bit of dark rum over each serving.
Garnish with a mint leaf.