This article is from 2009.
Fed up of the usual party-with-a-thousand-strangers nonsense the big cities are offering over New Year? Niki Boyle rounds up the most unusual celebrations happening throughout the rest of Scotland, to help you see the new decade in properly
If you’re a healthy combination of sporty and ah, carefree, there are numerous NY options available. The infamous Loony Dook takes place in various locations around the country, notably South Queensferry and Dundee. For the uninitiated, it involves stripping down to your skimpies on 1 January, then plunging into the nearest freezing cold river. Yes, you could do this alone, but it’s so much better when there’s a load of other like-minded ‘sports enthusiasts’ around you turning their nipples blue as well. For something a bit less teeth-chattering, but still largely incomprehensible to spectators, head up to Kirkwall in Orkney on Christmas or New Year’s Day for the Ba’ Game – a hundred-a-side football game played out in the streets, with rival sides the Uppies and the Doonies chosen from their respective places of birth in the town. Scrums, handballs and the occasional sighting of the ba’ itself have all been recorded, with many games lasting several hours. Chaotic, frenzied, and a great source of war-stories in the pub.
Being a country with its fair share of pagan and Viking ancestry, it’s unsurprising that there are a lot of fire festivals burning up and down the country at this time of year as well. The Stonehaven Fire Festival, which takes place on 31 December, sees the Aberdeenshire town’s inhabitants whirling 16-pound flaming balls around their bodies as they parade through the streets to the local harbour, where the fireballs are thrown to fizzle out. Historically, this ceremony (accompanied by pipers and drummers) was meant to ward off evil spirits and give good luck to the fishing fleet for the approaching year. We just think it’s a good excuse to disobey our mums and play with matches (which obviously, we have to say, you must never, never do), as non-locals are encouraged to participate. Also of interest is the Comrie Flambeaux (or ‘beautiful flame’), in which villagers (also accompanied by pipers and drummers) lift ten-foot torches to be carried through town and then – you guessed it – extinguished in the local river. This one has a bit of a Hallowe’eny vibe about it, as fancy-dressed guisers and dancers follow the procession through town. A third fiery option is on show at the massive Biggar Bonfire, which is everything the name promises.
Finally, if you don’t fancy heading out into the country for Hogmanay, the least you could do is nick some of their weirder traditions. Dundonians find it polite if you show up at their door with a dressed herring on New Year’s Day; inhabitants of Comrie would rather have a lump of coal, a bit of cake and some whisky. If, on the other hand, you’re receiving first-footers instead of being one, twigs of rowan, yew, and/or holly hung above the door are said to bring good luck, and keep out mischievous faeries. Or drunken revelers, whichever you think is more likely.