Hogmanay, First Footing and the Ormiston Yew- 2013 Celebration

I hope your First Footing, in the Celtic traditions of Hogmanay, portends a rewarding and meaningful coming year for you. Hogmanay is celebrated on New Years Eve, and First Footing on New Years Day, when friends visit each other bringing gifts of food (whiskey and shortbread are traditional). The first person to cross your threshold in the New Year is a ‘first footing’. If that person is a tall, dark, healthy person it portends a good year; if a blonde, short, unhealthy person, not so good! The tradition seems to hearken back to the Viking era, although it’s unclear how these omens were determined.

hogmanayFour years ago I traveled to Scotland with my daughter to experience Hogmanay in Edinburgh, one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world, drawing people from all over. I was curious to see how the Scottish celebrate it as I had started practicing a simple version of Hogmanay here in the Pacific Northwest years before, with friends of mine from Scotland, who knew of it as a tradition, historically more important than Christmas Day.


St Giles Hogmanay

The Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh today is an amazing event with bands and ceilighds throughout the city, a torchlight parade with thousands of us marching from High Street through town complete with roaring Vikings and bagpipers, a bonfire on the hill, and fireworks in abundance. And a lot of drinking of course. We were pleased to attend a candlelit concert in St. Giles Cathedral, a beautiful calm oasis in the midst of it!


The next morning, for New Years Day, Dea and I rented a car and using maps, blogs and GPS, found a 1000 year old yew tree an hour or so outside of Edinburgh which I had hoped we might find, called the Ormiston Yew. The canopy on this tree is so large it has been used for church services and important historical events. There was such as sense of calm and peace under that tree, a local family was having a picnic off to one side, but other img_4652than that we were able to enjoy it quietly and with the reverence it deserved. It was a remarkable day, and I’m forever grateful I had the chance to be there, and with my daughter, who really made it all happen.

I was blessed this New Year with my First Footing with a tall, dark, young man named Seamus crossing my door with a bag of oranges (with his family standing near), just after midnight. They know of this tradition for me, and gifted me with this visit, it was so beautiful. With this blessing, I feel assured of a good year ahead. I have so many things I’m looking forward to this year, including going back to visit some beautiful ancient yew trees in Ireland; returning to Spain to set up an ethnobotanical study there; exploring the Pacific Northwest and mastering new skills, in particular handweaving the ‘Crios’,  working with my wonderful ethnobotany and basketry students and finishing my new book ‘The People of Cascadia Activity Book’. And staying vigilant and participating in activism as needed in light of the political change ahead. I am hopeful.

I look forward to seeing or hearing from you in the coming year, and truly wish you a hopeful New Year!

To learn more about Heidi Bohan and her work: http://www.heidibohan.com

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