Family, Film, Writing

Hogmanay & Handselling. Only in Scotland.

It’s Hogmanay! Or for those of you reading this outside of Scotland it’s New Year’s Eve.

Traditionally, in oor wee bonnie country, the last day of the year is spent preparing to say goodbye to the year past by welcoming in the next with a variety of cultural nuances that have regional variances but fundamentally deliver on the same objective. Let’s move on people.

In preparation there’s an exorcism of the past – we clean our houses from top to bottom, opening the windows to make sure we get rid of any bad spirits that might be lingering from the previous months. We also need to make sure we clean the ashes from the fireplace and light a fire afresh, preferably from coals delivered from a first footer.

A piece of ‘lucky’ coal delivered by a ‘first footer’ after midnight was commonplace when I was a child but it doesn’t seem to happen so much now. There was always a drumroll of excitement waiting to find out who the first footer might be, hoping that, as tradition dictated, it would be a ‘tall, dark and handsome man’ (yep, glad that sexist shit has gone out the window!). There was frequently cheating in my house – mum would send dad out the back door just after midnight to come back in the front door as our first footer – to make sure we didn’t succumb to bad luck delivered by someone who hadn’t managed to shake off the bad spirits!

I love these little traditions and hope that my grandchildren will continue to celebrate in the same way as they move onwards with their own lives.

Nowadays, so much of the focus of the New Year seems to be on resolutions, often false promises made to give something  up, add something new to your routine or just do things differently. An attempt to rectify the past by doing better in the future.

I prefer not to spend too much time looking forward, instead I take each day as it comes and try  my best to squeeze what I can from it. The days don’t always bring happiness, or indeed tangible results, but they do bring a sense of the here and now and a recognition that what we have is precious. We can’t take any of it for granted. If, just for a moment, you put your life in the context of the harrowing plight of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing torture and war; and closer to home, think about the staggering, increasing, levels of child poverty in Scotland, then the realisation is there that life is always tougher for someone else.

In the last year my own world has changed significantly. My beautiful grandson Harris was born in January, my third, gorgeous, grandson Ruairí bolstered the middle of the year by making his appearance in July. Fittingly, Ruairí is staying over at the Bells and I know I’m blessed that his spirit will fill the house with joy.

There have been other amazing moments in between. The launch of the second edition of The Birds That Never Flew, an appearance at Bloody Scotland, winning the RTS award for my film Jock Stein, meeting my fellow Thunderpoint authors at The Edinburgh Book Festival, having the opportunity to work with the amazing Irvine Welsh are just a few highlights; there have been challenges too, the long days that stretch resolve and chip away at determination, but I won’t dwell on them here.

They have their place, but as reminders that we have to just move on, bit by bit.

One cultural tradition that we have left behind us in Scotland is that of ‘handselling’. This was celebrated on the first Monday in January when small gifts were given to wish you well for the year ahead. It lingers in some respects in other ways – a Scot won’t buy you the gift of a purse or wallet without “handselling’ it wae a couple of bob to gie you luck – which is a kind and caring gesture of symbolic protection.

I know I’ve just said I don’t make resolutions of promises but I hope we can handsel each and every day of 2016 with a bit of goodwill and determination. And if you’re visiting over the next wee while, don’t forget to bring me a lump of coal – even if you are borrowing it from my bunker in the garden!




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