ISSUE 35 DECEMBER 2001 BACK

mark smith from scotland

New Year in Scotland

Edinburgh is a winter city. Its craggy skyline comes into its own on those crisp clear days when you can see your own breath. The council market this aspect of the city well. Christmas is dealt with tastefully. An ice-rink, a big wheel and various craft and hot chestnut stalls in Princes St. Gardens, against the backdrop of the Castle Rock evoke storybook images of Christmas past. Christmas present is catered for through a massive ceilidh held in the city centre on Christmas Eve.

Such celebration of Christmas is relatively recent in Scotland. The occasional Catholic symbolism of the event could appear dissonant with the austere presbyterianism which has dominated much of Scotland's history. Festivity and celebration befitted much more serious consideration than the frivolity attaching to Christmas. It generally also involved hard drink. Traditionally then, New Year has been the country’s important celebration. Until about forty years ago Christmas was a working day for tradesmen. Hogmany (New Years Eve) was the big night. After the bells rang out midnight, people would set off to “first-foot” neighbours and family armed with a lump of coal, a loaf of “black bun” and most importantly, a bottle of whisky.

New Years Day itself was for recovering, starting all over again and perhaps taking in the local football “derby.”

New Year too has been commercialised. The erstwhile focal point to “see in the bells,” the Tron church on the High St. has become the centrepiece of a range of festivities. Edinburgh is apparently the hogmany capital of the world, with I think, 250,000 visitors descending on the city for the celebrations.

Like so many occasions which are so eagerly anticipated and hyped up, especially perhaps those involving obligatory levels of alcohol consumption, the allure of New Year can be more enticing than a reality that dawns with an almighty hangover and the realisation that the world is still the same place as it was in the year just departed. The allure of New Year is perhaps most beguiling for the young. I was on duty for one of my most memorable recent ones. My time was spent trying to thwart the elaborate plans kids had to escape from the secure unit to take their place at the celebrations in the town. It didn’t work. The mother of one of the girls smuggled drugs into the unit. A couple of the residents took them and had to be taken to the Infirmary to get checked out. Of course they took off. I hope they had a good New Year. They probably didn’t though, Where are you now girls? Have a good one!

However big the hangover and whatever the reality the next day, New Year with its rituals and its resolutions perhaps gives us, while it lasts, that small hope for a better tomorrow. God knows, we need such rituals and such hopes.

"A guid New Year tae yin an aw–"

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