Hugh Reilly: Hogmanay, the jewel in festive crown

FOR ex-pats residing in Samoa and reading the online version of The Scotsman, a Happy New Year to you. Thanks to an intrusive time difference, the rest of us will have to wait until just after midnight to celebrate the last evening of 2013.

Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry

Only in Scotland has New Year’s Eve been given a queer moniker, Hogmanay. Norse, French and Gaelic lay claim to the etymology of Hogmanay. To be honest, it sticks in my craw that alleged linguists can’t trace those responsible for inflicting this guttural monstrosity on the English language.

Traditionally, at Hogmanay the nation gathered round black and white television sets to watch The White Heather Club, the acme of tartan kitsch. Knobbly-kneed singers belted out stirring patriotic airs such as A Scottish Soldier before delving into the sentimental slush songbook and giving us Haste Ye Back. The latter tune always made my overly-sensitive mother cry as she cut portions of Madeira cake – for years, I believed this bakery product possessed the tear-jerking properties of an onion.

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Our living room was transformed into Cape Canaveral as we counted down the seconds to welcoming in the next 365 day cycle of unrelenting poverty. On the final chime there would be a loud roar of “Happy New Year!” as mum and dad kissed as if they still loved each other.

These days, the nostalgic older generation desperately flick through the entire spectrum of their Freeview box endeavouring to see something that remotely reminds them of yesteryear. Sadly, most programmes appear to have been commissioned to appeal to a target audience composed of folk who wear pyjama trousers to supermarkets.

In the annual laugh-free comedy show Only An Excuse, Jonathan Watson trots out take-offs of Frank MacAvennie (who?) and septuagenarian Denis Law. Tonight, we have been promised brand new characters to be parodied from the pantheon of football, probably Bill Struth and Jock Stein.

Immediately after the bells, it’s customary to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be trapped in a lift with Johann Lamont.

In cities, the idea of first-footing is as popular as the notion of sitting atop a space hopper and bouncing through a minefield. The age-old practice still survives in our small towns and villages, much to the dismay of many who live in small towns and villages. Having a drunken neighbour appear at your door holding a piece of coal and some shortbread shrapnel can be disquieting.

The decision whether to allow the imbiber to cross the threshold is a difficult one. He may leave after five minutes to partake of another’s hospitality, but on the other hand, the unsolicited guest may linger as though he has squatters’ rights to your DFS half-price sofa.

The first of January is the day to compile solemn resolutions that, in the weeks that follow, will inevitably be somewhat tweaked or downright broken.

Losing weight is a promise made by the lardy demographic who wish to whittle themselves down to a human form that is a tad less grotesque. It’s not easy to lose pounds – there’s no silver baguette. It requires immense willpower to ignore facile advice to eat fewer calories and instead steadfastly embark on a diet independently verified by slimming industry-appointed scientists.

The list of diet regimes that have contributed to 62 per cent of Scottish adults being overweight or obese gives much food for thought: Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Dukan and (Ardrossan) South Beach. Presently, there are ripples of excitement in the world of unwanted chubbiness due to the alleged efficacy of the faddish 5:2 fast weight loss programme. Call me picky, but starving oneself twice a week to drop a dress size seems extreme when the alternative is to simply develop a slower pie-eating-hand.

2014 will be a seminal year in the history of Scotland. Unlike the parcel o’ rogues who sold the nation’s sovereignty without the consent of the citizenry, the country’s constitutional future will be decided by the democratic will of the people. My earnest hope is that the puerile scaremongering ceases and is replaced by sound discourse and reason. There is too much at stake for the guff spouted in 2013 to be continued.

Rest assured, no matter the outcome of the referendum, Hogmanay will remain arguably the most important festival in the Scottish calendar. Happy New Year!