Hogmanay: Let’s Get Scottish


Although, lately, it’s become a bit of a drunken bash, Hogmanay is actually a very ancient festival.

What? You’ve never heard of Hogmanay?

Sorry! I tend to forget that most people don’t have the advantage of being born Scottish.

For the uninformed, Hogmanay is basically New Year’s Eve, but, like haggis and hating the English, it has a distinctive Scottish flavour.  You see, for most of Scotland’s history, Christmas was no big deal.  Back in the day, the powers that be in Scotland’s Protestant Church weren’t all that keen on the heathen bits of Christmas (stuff like trees, presents, and mistletoe.) So, rather than muck about, they simply banned it, and for several hundred years, there was no Christmas north of Hadrian’s Wall.  In fact, Christmas, as the rest of the world knows it, only became a holiday in Scotland in 1958!  Instead, the Scots celebrated Hogmanay on December 31st.  The great irony is, of course, Hogmanay is about as pagan as you can get without a human sacrifice.  So much for the wisdom of the Church of Scotland!

As with most modern festivals, though, good luck trying to figure out where Hogmanay came from!  Its origins are a tangled mess of several cultural influences.  First, there is the Gaelic celebration of Yule and the even older winter festival, Samhain.  (Or maybe it’s the other way round?  I can never keep those two straight.)  Either way, these were high holidays on the Celtic calendar for a millennium before Christianity came to Caledonia.  Meanwhile, sometime in the 8th century, marauding Vikings started showing up, battle axe in hand, to add a little rape and pillage to the Scottish shore.  Some of these Norsemen liked the look of the place and took up residence and, no strangers to wild parties, added their traditions to the mix, including a Winter Solstice celebration.  So, by the time Robbie Burns wrote “Auld Lang Syne” (the quintessential New Year’s song) in 1788, Hogmanay was already Scotland’s quintessential winter festival — and had been for 1,000 years.

In contemporary times, Hogmanay is still celebrated as an optimistic look into the future.  Most Scots clear out the clutter of the old year, including getting rid of unused items, old clothes and even breaking off bad relationships and settling debts.  The point is to welcome the new year with a clean slate.  The most vigorously observed custom, though, is “first-footing.”  This is the first person to come through your door in the new year.  Folklore dictates that it should be a tall, dark man.  (In Scotland, short blonde woman, stay home!  I’m not kidding!) And he should bring bread, salt or coal as a gift to the household.  This ensures prosperity and good fortune in the coming year.

Of course, if it’s Scottish, it includes alcohol. Toasting in the New Year is done so enthusiastically — from Gretna Green to the Isle of Skye — that  not only is January 1st a national holiday, but January 2nd, as well.  (Pragmatic people, the Scots!)

So (as the man said) we can raise a cup of kindness to last year, but let’s reserve the next two for the year to come.

Happy New Year, everybody! (wherever you are in the world)

St. Andrew’s Day – 2017

st andrew'sThursday, November 30th is the feast day of St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.  It’s a day when Scotsmen (and women) all over the world … do nothing by way of celebration!  Of course, in Scotland, it’s a Bank Holiday, except the Scots, being a pragmatic people, don’t necessarily close all the banks or give people a day off.  (“Ya’ll no waste an honest da’s work fer the likes a tha’ muck!”)  St. Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, Prussia, the Ukraine and parts of Italy and Malta.  Busy boy, our Andrew!  He is also the brother of St. Peter, the keeper of the Gates of Heaven.  My great uncles used to say that just as St. Peter greets the dead at the Pearly Gates, his brother is right there beside him, collecting the pennies.  (“Ya’ll no be needin’ tha’ where yar goin,’ laddie!”) And if you don’t get that joke, you’re not a true Scotsman (or woman.)

We Scots have always been proud of our heritage, and unlike the Irish with their overblown St. Paddy’s Day (more booze and less brag, say I) keep a low profile.  It took an American Swede, Arthur L. Herman, to tell everybody that the Scots actually invented the modern world – which we did.  In that same vein, here are a list of prominent Scots and their contribution to civilization.

John Dunlop – who invented the rubber tire, although for years he spelled it with a y, as in “tyre.”  The Scottish grasp of the English language has always been a bit suspect.

Sir Walter Scott – who invented chivalry with his novel Ivanhoe.  Before that, knights were just smelly old men with swords — who dressed up in tin cans.

James Dewar (not Jimmy Dewar, the bass player) – who invented the thermos.  At one time, people used a thermos over and over again to keep hot coffee hot.  Then Starbucks came along, and now we just throw the containers in the streets.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell – who invented the Stockholm Syndrome when he kidnapped Mary Queen of Scots (see below)  She eventually got to like the idea and married him.

Alexander Graham Bell – who invented the telephone, although wouldn’t you know it, every time a Scotsman gets something,  there’s an Englishman hiding in the bushes, waiting to take it away from him.  (I’m looking at you, Elisha Gray.)

Robert Louis Stevenson – who invented adventure stories which were great for kids until the Baby Boomers came along with their “politically correct” crap and spoiled everybody’s fun.

James Watt – who invented “spin doctors” when he didn’t actually invent the steam engine but made it look like he did.

John Knox – who didn’t invent religious intolerance but certainly practiced it with a vengeance.

Adam Smith – who invented “Every man for himself” economics.

Sean Connery – who invented the derogatory cinematic comparison.  After he played James Bond, no other actor has ever been able to measure up.

John Baird – who invented television and is currently burning in Hell.

Arthur Conan Doyle – who invented the smug, know-it-all detective — Sherlock Holmes — and became very famous.  This pissed off his brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung, and he invented the smug, know-it-all thief — Raffles.

Mary, Queen of Scots – who invented the stupid political leader by continually getting out-manoeuvred by Elizabeth I.

Bonnie Prince Charlie – who continued the incompetent tradition of his great-great-great grandmother (Mary, Queen of Scots) by sending his Highland followers charging into Lord Cumberland’s cannons with nothing to protect them but their tartans.

Rob Roy MacGregor – who invented the heroic outlaw and did it way better than that flighty Englishman, Robin Hood.  Here’s proof.  Kevin Costner, who portrayed Robin Hood in the movies, was also a baseball player, a corn farmer, a postal worker and a fish: Liam Neeson, who played Rob Roy, was Zeus, Aslan and Michael Collins, all gods in their respective kingdoms.  He also trained Batman, Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.  Plus, he single-handedly wiped out an international gang of kidnappers (3 times) and kicked the crap out of a pack of wolves. (You do the math.)

Joseph Lister – who didn’t invent Listerine but was such a psychotic- clean-freak that the guy who did named it after him.

David Livingstone – who invented converting the heathen — whether they liked it or not — but is much more famous for getting lost.

Alan Pinkerton – who invented the private detective which accounts for over half of America’s cultural legacy.

Robbie Burns – who wrote the quintessential New Year ’s Eve song, but unfortunately none of his other works has ever been translated into any recognizable language.

James Barrie – who invented Peter Pan, “the boy who never grew up.”  Unfortunately, Peter, Wendy, Hook and the whole gang are currently under siege from the same people who killed Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure stories.  Don’t let the bastards grind you down, Peter!

William McGonagall – who invented bad poetry and is still considered the worst poet ever to touch pen to paper.  Don’t believe me?  Read “The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

And finally

Billy Connolly – who invent Scottish humour and cashed in, big time, on the Scots’ inherent ability to laugh at themselves.

Happy St Andrew’s Day!

(Originally from 2012– with a few minor changes.)

The War On Plaid

tartan ribbonNovember 30th was St. Andrew’s Day* and I’m declaring war on plaid.  Why?  Last week, after seven unoffending years, a free yoga class at the University of Ottawa, in Canada, was cancelled because of “cultural issues.” (Call it “cultural appropriation.”)  WTF?  Apparently, Downward Dog is a symbol of oppression.  Too bad, so sad — you’re probably better off doing Tai Chi, anyway.  (Ooops!)  But that’s not my point.

If the progressive world wishes to fight for the rights of an oppressed minority, they need look no further than the mean streets and heathery footpaths of Scotland.  Trapped on an island with the great bogeyman of European cultural tyranny, the English — and their minions, the Welsh — we Scots have been getting oppressed for so long it looks like normal to the rest of the world.  And the litany of shame is long.

For centuries, Scots have smiled through the tears as we’ve endured offensive and degrading nicknames like Mac, Jock and Plaidie.  We’ve been objectified in the media — from Brigadoon and Scrooge McDuck to Groundskeeper Willie (I’m not even going to mention Fat Bastard.) and repeatedly portrayed as stupid, cheap and brutal alcoholics who can hardly speak English.  I’m looking at you, Robin Williams.

Our national symbol, the thistle, has been belittled as a weed.  Our music has been lampooned as the missing link between sound and noise.  Our food has been ridiculed as the worst in the world (by the World Health Organization, no less.)  Our underwear (or lack of it) is the subject of mocking public speculation.  Our very name has been appropriated across the planet for a child’s game, hopscotch; a candy flavour, butterscotch; and a transparent adhesive, Scotch tape.  When Mel Gibson turned our national hero William Wallace, into a paint-stained, historically inaccurate, shouting Australian, the world cheered and gave him 5 (FIVE!) Academy Awards — and no voice was raised in Scotland’s defence.

Our national game, golf, an ancient, pastoral activity of poor shepherds, was stolen from us.  Appropriated by the world, it has been transformed into a highly competitive, pay-to-play commercial sport.  It is now the hobby of the very rich — an icon of capitalist success that represents the in-your-face power of the 1%.

However, it is for the tartan that we must weep.  The very symbol of the Scottish family, the intricate, hand-woven patterns were passed down, mother to daughter, for untold generations.  The tartan is a visual reminder of that strongest bond of Scottish familial culture — the clan.  No croft was too humble, no laird was too bold, no Scot or her children were too far from home not to honour the tartan and wear it with pride.  And what did the world do?  PLAID — that’s what!

Ripped from the humble looms of Scottish cottages, PLAID is now synonymous with bad taste all over the world, from those ugly Burberry umbrellas to the ratty, little shirts hipsters wear.  Cheap hotels, discount furniture stores, bargain clothing outlets are all awash in godawful, hideous PLAID.  There’s no end to it, but it must end.

So I’m declaring war on PLAID.  I call on all colleges and universities to ban PLAID from their campuses, and I call on all thinking people everywhere to go to their closets, their linen cupboards, their basements and recreation rooms, and pull the PLAID from your homes.  Pile your PLAID in the streets, and on December 31st, the great Scottish celebration — Hogmanay — burn it.  Burn it so the light from a million fires might reach into the dark night of ignorance and free the Scottish soul from this horrible ordeal.  We must end this cultural nightmare — now!

*FYI, St Andrew’s Day is the Scottish equivalent of St Patrick’s Day — with more booze and less brag.