Hogmanay, First Footing and the Ormiston Yew

I hope your First Footing, in the Celtic traditions of Hogmanay, portends a rewarding and meaningful coming year for you. And in the words of my Oglala Lakota friend Will Peters, “instead of wishing you all a happy new year, I’ll wish you all a hopeful new year, may you cherish every moment of happiness that comes your way.”

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, to see how the Scottish celebrate it. I had started practicing a simple version of Hogmanay here in the Pacific Northwest years before, with friends of mine, some from Scotland, who knew of it as a tradition, where on the first day of the new year friends visit each other bringing gifts of food (whiskey and shortbread are traditional). The first person to cross your threshold 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.

scotland-hogmanay-torchlight-paradeThe Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh is amazing with bands playing on the street throughout the city, a torchlight parade with thousands of us marching from High Street through town complete with Vikings and bagpipes, and fireworks throughout. And a lot of drinking of course. And the next morning the streets are practically spotless.


Dea and I rented a car there on January 1 img_4652and using maps, blogs and GPS, found a 1000 year old yew tree 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 signing events throughout history. There was such as sense of calm and peace under that tree, a local family was having a picnic off to once side, but other than we were able to enjoy it quietly and with the reverence it deserved. It was a remarkable day, and I’m forever I had the chance to do that, and with my daughter, who really made it all happen.

I was blessed this New Year with my First Footing with a lovely, 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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