First Footing
Cultural Traditions
First Footing - A Scottish Tradition

This Scottish new year’s tradition traces back to Scotland’s encounters with the Vikings and Scottish Yuletide celebrations.

Cultural History

In Protestant Scotland, Christmas was considered a Papish festival. Therefore, it was banned from the 17th century up until the 1950’s, some 400 years of disapproval. Instead, Yuletide and the New Year became the focus of celebration, with traditions stemming from Scotland’s long acquaintance with visiting Norsemen.

“First footing”, or the tradition of the “first foot” in the house after midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, is still common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be a dark-haired male. He should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun, and a wee dram of whisky. The dark-haired male bit is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days, when a big blonde stranger arriving on your doorstep with a big axe meant big trouble, likely not to lead to a very happy New Year!

Today, firework displays and torchlight processions are enjoyed throughout many cities in Scotland and are reminders of the ancient pagan parties from those Viking days of long ago. The traditional New Year ceremony involves people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village whilst being hit by sticks. The festivities also include the lighting of bonfires and tossing torches. Animal hides are wrapped around sticks and ignited to produce smoke that is believed to be very effective in warding off evil spirits – this smoking stick is known as a Hogmanay.