New Year’s celebrations around the UK26-Feb-2013
The Christmas season is approaching and when that draws to a close, New Year’s will be upon us. There is quite a variety of traditions in different areas of the United Kingdom when it comes to celebrating this eventful day (or rather night) so let’s take a look at what the Brits do to ring in the New Year!
In England, the biggest event is probably, like in most countries, the capital city’s firework display which is shown on live national television to millions of viewers. All around Big Ben (clocks are very symbolic of the new year for obvious reasons), Westminster Palace and along the River Thames, thousands of pounds worth of fireworks are lit to call in the New Year. In 2010, for the first time, the London firework display was set to music, with songs from The Beatles and Queen. At the same time, in other parts of England, and for those in London who don’t want to be squashed in crowds in the freezing cold, parties are held in pubs, clubs and at home. At the stroke of midnight, the most popular tradition is for people to stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne, a beuatiful poem written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 which loosely translates to “the old times” or “long, long ago”. As in most countries, celebrations of New Year’s Eve often go on well into January 1st.
On New Year’s Day, there are a variety of different traditions and events. A very old tradition which is still sometimes carried out today is that, once midnight has passed, a dark-haired man enters your house for the first time of the year, bringing in with him a coin for prosperity, bread for food, salt for flavour and coal for warmth, which will then be plentiful for the rest of the year. This custom is called first footing and is often still done today in rural parts of England and Scotland. In coastal towns, people nursing hangovers from the Christmas season and the New Year’s Eve celebrations go for a swim in the sea! This is surprisingly popular, despite the cold weather and water temperatures, and it is sometimes done in fancy dress. In London, the New Year’s Day Parade is held, and has been annually since 1987. This travels from the river down near Westminster all the way up to near Buckingham Palace. In 2011, the parade included performances from over 10,000 performers. The 2013 parade is planned to include acrobats, clowns, marching bands and musicians, amongst other things. It will be broadcast to international news stations such as Sky, Fox, CNN and CBS.
In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as Hogmanay and involves numerous celebrations and several different customs, including first footing. Another custom that takes place in certain regions of Scotland is known as fireball swinging: people create balls of chicken wire or metal mesh and stuff them with newspaper, old rags and sticks and attach them to ropes or chains. As the church bells signal the New Year, the balls are set on fire and people carry them along the streets to the harbours, swinging them around their heads as they go. Any that are still aflame when they reach the sea are thrown in. These events attract thousands of people, and now are often accompanied by street performers and vendors to keep the crowds happy.
In the Scottish capital Edinburgh, one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations, the Hogmanay takes place. The main focus is a major street party along the main street in Edinburgh, Princes Street, and at the stroke of midnight, the cannon at Edinburgh Castle is fired, followed by a huge firework display. Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions in Scotland, which are often much colder, wetter and windier than in England, the Hogmanay street party is often cancelled at the last minute, much to the annoyance of those wishing to attend.
The Welsh have an ancient tradition known as the Calennig which translates to ‘the first day of the month’ but which means ‘New Year celebration or gift’. They give each other gifts or money, especially to members of their own family, and today it is customary to exchange gifts of bread and cheese. In some areas of rural Wales, they must visit every member of their family before midday on New Year’s Day to collect their calennig.
Calennig is also what Wales refers to as its New Year’s Eve celebrations. In Cardiff, for example, the city opens a public ice rink, funfair and live music, where everyone can go for free to see in the new year. They will also be holding a ‘fire show’ in the castle, which promises a spectacular celebration of all things fireworks!
A tradition that was once popular all over Wales but is now only still continued in the south of the country, Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) is a ritual carried out for luck, where one person in a group dresses up as a horse and the group move from house to house, knocking on doors until they are accepted in for food, drink and hospitality. This is now quite a rare tradition, as it became associated with drunkenness and mischief.
New Year’s Eve in Ireland is a much more understated affair, with most people preferring to spend the night in with friends and family. One uniquely Irish custom is to commemorate those who are no longer with us by setting a dinner place for anyone in the family who has passed away and leaving the door unlocked on New Year’s Eve night so that their spirit can come in and enjoy the festivities. The Irish also believe that the house should be spotlessly clean come New Year’s Day, so New Year’s Eve is often spent furiously cleaning and tidying up in preparation for the coming year. Ireland is another region where first footing is also common, and they often go swimming at 1pm on New Year’s Day at Silver Strand in the cold Atlantic sea – brrr!
Happy New Year!