December 31, 2006

"DESPERATE COMBAT" (via Mike Daley):

The devil divides Scotland from England (Bruce Anderson, 12/31/06, Sunday Telegraph)

Hogmanay is about darkness. It is a ceremony based on the three "Ds": the dark, the devil and the dram. That is why a proper Scottish New Year does not start until midnight. The previous hours are spent lining the stomach with heavy food and non-alcoholic beverages, such as wine, so that the innards are fortified against the onslaught of the whisky bottle.

Then midnight strikes: the blackest hour, when the forces of darkness dominate. How to repel them? Strong drink, strong men, who go in procession from house to house, bearing bottles of whisky and lumps of coal. The darkest-visaged is chosen to put the first foot across the threshold, so that, however black the features, it will be a friendly first foot — and not Satan. The first foot's lump of coal is a harmless addition to the domestic hearth, not fuel borrowed from the infernal furnaces.

So Hogmanay may have some tenuous links with Christianity. It appears to draw from the two elements which the Scots always found most inspiring: hell fire and the devil. In the spirit fired up from eternal conflict, the Scots spend the first six hours or so of the New Year keeping the de'il at bay with their equivalent of a crucifix and garlic: whisky. The word "whisky" is a corruption of the Gaelic for the water of life: its vital function on New Year's morn.

After a rest for sleep and rehydration, Hogmanay resumes around lunchtime on January 1, just to ensure that the devil has been kept off the premises. In recent years, January 2 has also become a virtual holiday in Scotland and one can understand why. It is not actually known as liver-function resumption day, but that is the general idea.

This is not to say that there will be no hangovers in England this Tuesday. But there is a crucial difference. A hungover Englishman is merely a victim of overindulgence. A Scots hangover is a war wound, mightily earned in a desperate combat with the hosts of hell.

The English celebrate New Year as if they were Hobbits in Tolkien's Shire; the Scots celebrate Hogmanay as if they were Aragorn on the frontier of Mordor. Long may the difference continue. Happy New Year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2006 2:20 PM

Halloween on New Year's day. And I thought the Irish were strange.

Posted by: jdkelly at December 31, 2006 5:21 PM