Twelve Days of Christmas
March 12th, is the Feast of Marduk, an ancient Babylonian God. Acknowledged as the creator of the universe and of humankind, the god of light and life, and the ruler of destinies, he rose to such eminence that he claimed 50 titles.
The epic poem Enûma Elish tells the story of Marduk’s birth, heroic deeds and becoming the ruler of the gods. Also included in this document are The Fifty Names of Marduk. You can read more about Marduk at The Powers That Be.
Aside from being a fertility god and god of thunderstorms, Marduk’s original character is obscure. Later he became connected with water, vegetation, judgment, and magic. He is normally referred to as Bel “Lord”, also bel rabim “great lord”, bêl bêlim “lord of lords”, ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti “leader of the gods”, aklu bêl terieti “the wise, lord of oracles”, muballit mîte “reviver of the dead”, etc.
A Ritual for Marduk’s Feast Day:
- Colors: Light blue and grey
- Element: Air
- Altar: On a cloth of pale blue place a naked sword, three grey candles, and a loaf of bread shaped like a dragon.
- Offerings: Cut something into pieces.
- Daily meal: Fish or meat, chopped finely.
Invocation to Marduk
The warrior’s sword is clean and bright
And has two edges. So Marduk found.
Taking up the sword, he slew
The Dragon Mother Tiamat
And from her body carved the earth
And the overarching sky.
Yet he found, as we all do,
That he could not live anywhere
On this the new earth without
Remembering her, and all that she was,
And he lived and died surrounded
By her at the last,
And her body took his
When at last he was betrayed.
Beware, ye who would be king
By force of arms! Your enemies define you,
So choose them well.
(One who has been chosen to do the work of the ritual takes up the sword and cleaves the bread dragon into pieces, which are then passed around and eaten. Exit to the beating of a drum.)
From: Pagan Book of Hours
Traditionally the feast lasted for twelve days:
Five thousand years ago, in the cradle of Western civilization that lay between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates that we now call Iraq, the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians held their New Year celebrations at about the time of the Spring Equinox. These Mesopotamians (a word that means ‘[dwellers of the land between the rivers’), the Babylonians to the north and the Sumerians further to the south called this festival, respectively, Akitaand Zagmuk (or Zakmuk).
On the first three days, the priests would come to the high Temple of Marduk in Babylon, the Ésagila, and offer prayers of lamentation and supplication. These prayers were repeated on the fourth day, when the Enûma Eliš, the great Babylonian Epic of Creation, was recited, telling the story of Marduk’s victory over Tiamat.
On the fifth day, the king of Babylon came to the Ésagila, was stripped of his crown, robes and regalia, and was humiliated by the High Priest, who struck him in the face, symbolizing submission before the greater power of the god, after which his crown was returned, symbolizing the god’s approval of his royal and civic roles.
Marduk is then captured by the evil gods and held prisoner by them, in the Etemenanki, a seven-storey ziggurat (identified in the Torah and the Bible as the Tower of Babel), where he awaits the arrival of his son, Nabu. He arrives on day six, symbolized by a great, formal procession of the King and the citizens of Babylon to the Ésagila, and on day seven, Nabu frees his embattled father.
The eighth day saw the gathering of the statues of the gods in the hall of Destinies, where they bestow their powers on Marduk, confirming his primacy over them all. A victory procession to the House of Akita, situated outside the city walls, took place on the ninth day, as the populace celebrated Marduk’s defeat of Tiamat, and on the tenth day, Marduk returns to earth during the night and marries the goddess Ishtar, their roles acted by the King of Babylon and the High Priestess of the Ésagila.
The eleventh day sees the return to the hall of Destinies, where the gods and Marduk renew their covenant with mankind before they return to Heaven, and on the final day, the statues of the gods were returned to their places in the Ésagila and the king would be slain, so that his spirit could assist Marduk – although, in reality, a criminal would be elected as a proxy king and killed in place of the true king.
We can see here clear parallels here with the Lord of Misrule, a substitute king who takes over the responsibilities of the real king at the festival time, as well as story of Jesus and Barabbas in the New Testament, (Barabbas means, literally, ‘Son of the Lord’), and the wide-spread legends of the dying god who returns to life.
The twelve days of Zagmuk are the origins of our twelve days of Christmas, although moved from the Babylonian New Year to our New Year, and they may well be the intercalary adjustment of 11.25 days needed to reconcile the 354 days of the lunar year with the 365.25 days of the solar year.
The names and the mythology of Marduk were also incorporated into the fictional mythology of the Necronomicon. Each of the fifty names was given a power and a seal. These can be found here: About The Fifty Names of Marduk
Source: Wikipedia and The Study
“Twelfth-day” is the twelfth day after Christmas, or Epiphany, occurring on the 6th of January. It is a festival of the Christian church in commemoration of the manifestation of Christ by the star which guided the magi to Bethlehem. “Twelfth-night” is the eve of Epiphany, when many social festivities and superstitious rites were observed. “Twelfth-tide” is the time or festival of twelfth-day. “The Twelfths” are the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. Epiphany is also called “Little Christmas,” being the social festival which brings the merry-makings of the Christmas cycle to an end.
A special cake, called “Twelfthcake,” is prepared for the festivities on twelfth-night. A bean or a coin is baked into it, and, the cake being divided by lot, whoever draws the slice containing it is entitled to preside as king or queen over the festivities. This custom is a relic of the old Roman festival of the Saturnalia, at the close of which the Roman children drew lots with beans to see who would be king.
A series of cards, called “Twelfth-night cards,” representing different characters such as king, queen, minister, maids of honor, or ludicrous or grotesque personages, were distributed among the guests, who had to assume the respective characters during the festivities.
A curious custom is the annual cutting of the Baddeley cake at Drury Lane Theater, London, on Twelfth-night. William Baddeley, the last actor to wear the uniform of “His Majesty’s Servants,” left £100 in bank stock, the income from which was to buy a Twelfthcake, with wine and punch, which the ladies and gentlemen were requested “to partake on every Twelfth-night in the great greenroom.”
The Devonshire farmers have an old custom of wassailing the fruit trees on the eve of Twelfth-day. They proceed with their servants, who carry large pitchers or milk pails filled with cider, to their orchards. Here one tree is selected as representative of the rest, and saluted with certain incantations; cakes are dipped in the cider and hung up on the branches, and the tree is sprinkled with the cider. They all dance merrily around it and afterward return home to feast. This is done in order that the trees should bear more fruit.
“Wassail the trees that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear;
For more or less fruits they will bring
As you do give them wassailing.”
On twelfth-day in Ireland, they set up a sieve of oats as high as they can and in it a dozen candles. In the center is a larger one, all lighted, so as to have luck all the year.
In Styria, Austria, Epiphany is commonly called St. Bertha’s day, and it is believed that the devil is abroad in great force on that St. Bertha’s night. If one makes on that night a magic circle, and stands therein holding elder-berries gathered on St. John’s night, one would obtain the magic fern-seed which will come wrapped in a chalice cloth, and confer on one the strength of thirty or forty men.
On Epiphany, or as it is called in Bohemia, “Three Kings’ Day,” the festival of the three wise men who visited the Infant Saviour, three crosses should be made on every door, not only of the house but on the stables, pens and coops, to keep witches away. Bonfires are made at night and brooms are thrown as high as possible, all on fire, to represent the burning and the scattering of the witches. But beware that you do not point at one of the flying brooms! One of the fiery darts will pierce your finger.
When Queen Elizabeth visited Sudely Castle, Gloucestershire, about 300 years ago, on twelfthnight, “drawing the bean and pea” took place in her presence. No reason is given for the introduction of the bean and pea into the twelfth-cake, but Brand takes us to the ancient Greeks for the bean, and it may have been used on account of its mystic meaning. It was not allowed to be used for food by any of the disciples of Pythagoras lest it should be a receptacle of a departed soul, to eat which would be as impious as eating human flesh.
In Macedonia, on the 6th of January, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ, a cross is thrown into the river by the priests and dived for by the men. Sick children are dipped into the water for healing. Some of this holy water, which is considered to have medicinal value, is carried home by the people, and health is insured to all who wash in it. In Kavadartsy, some of this water is used to make new leaven for the bread, and some is also thrown into the well. In Monastir straw dipped into this holy water, is wrapped around the trunks of trees to make them fruitful.
On the eve of Epiphany, the Albanians also roll a round cake to the middle of the vineyard, and then distribute it in bits for the ravens, crows, and other birds, saying: “Assemble, oh ravens, oh crows, and eat, so that we may eat and drink and you do us no harm.” This will so appeal to the honor of the birds that they will not touch the vines.
In Bohemia, the inscription “three kings” is made upon the door of the chief room of the house from the inside, every year on the 6th of January, “Three Kings’ Day” by the priest, teacher, or sexton of the town, with a blessed crayon or chalk, in the form of C x M x B x 1899 (or whatever year it may be), which means the names of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the three wise men who paid court to the Infant Jesus. This inscription protects the house from evil spirits and prevents them entering the rooms. It also brings blessings to the inhabitants. This we find of course only in Catholic families, and none of their domiciles are without it. The priest blesses the chalk for the believers, that they make inscriptions also upon the doors of their stables and barns to repel all witchcraft and magic that might do harm to the cattle or crops.
More Epiphany and Twelfth Night Lore:
- Brooms bound during the twelfths protect against witchcraft.
- Do no threshing in the twelfths, or all the corn within hearing will be spoiled.
- If cattle are fed with stolen kale (a kind of cabbage) during the twelfths, they will come to no harm.
- Whatever is dreamed during the twelfths will come to pass in the twelve months of the year.
- If a broken arm is bound five or six times round with thread spun in the twelfths, it will speedily become sound.
- In the twelfths magpies should be shot and burnt to a powder, which is good for the ague.
- Those who wear linen made from yarn spun during the twelfths will be devoured by wolves.
- No moth will come into yarn spun during the twelfths.
- If hens are fattened with peas during the twelfths, they will lay many eggs.
- At twelfth day the days are lengthened a cock’s stride.
- In the country between Hamelin and Mindcn and in other places, it is believed that no dung should be taken out of the cow house during the twelfths, else the cattle will be sick the following year.
- He who steals on twelfth-night, can steal safely for a year.
- If you eat peas or beans on twelfth-night, you will fall sick.
- On the twelfth-night the dead walk, and on every tile of the house a soul is sitting waiting for your prayers to take it out of Purgatory.
- If in the twelve-nights neither master nor man bring fresh-blackened shoes into the stables, the cattle will be bewitched.
- On twelfth-night in Scotland a board is covered with cow’s dung, candles set in it, and sprinkled with ash to make them light easily. They are then lighted, each being named for someone present, and as each dies, so will the life of the owner.
- In the “Book of Precedents,” published in London in 1616, we read that the 6th of January was five times lucky for Charles, Duke of Anjou, and equally lucky for the Earl of Sunderland.
- If a Danish girl wishes to see her future husband, she must repeat the following verse before going to bed on the eve of Epiphany: “Ye three holy kings to you I pray, That ye to-night will let me see, Whose cloth I shall spread, Whose bed I shall make, Whose name I shall bear, Whose bride I shall be.”
- Be sure for luck’s sake to spin off all the distaffs on the morrow after twelfth-day.
- The twelve days after Christmas make the almanac for the year.
- Tis thus believed in Trinity Bay, New Bedford, Mass., and Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia it is said that the first seven days of January foretell the first seven months of the year.
- Those who do not spin in the twelfths may not wind on the 13th. (North Germany)
- In Transylvania whoever dies on the feast of Epiphany, is considered lucky.
- On the eve of Epiphany, the Albanians sprinkle the grapevines with holy water, believing that this will induce them to bear well.
Traditionally, a cake was baked for this day, (Jan 17) and a bean hidden somewhere in the mixture and baked along with it. Whoever received the piece of cake with the bean was appointed King or Queen of the Bean for the night, and lead the company in songs and games. Here’s a recipe:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups currants
- 1 1/2 cups raisins
- 1 1/2 cups sultanas
- 3 tbsp brandy
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup candied cherries
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 dried bean
Grease a 12 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together and stir in the well-beaten eggs and the brandy. Sift the flour with a little cinnamon and fold into the mixture, then stir in the dried fruit.
Add the bean.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for three hours at 300′ F. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before turning out. Melt the honey and glaze the top of the cake, and decorate with the cherries.
From the earliest times the twelve days have been regarded as a time when supernatural events can easily happen, when the dead are close at hand and might often be seen.
One reads of the Wild Hunt, or the Fairy Host riding across the lands of Britain and Germany in particular, led by characters such as King Arthur, Woden, and Arawn, the Celtic god of the Underworld. In Ireland these supernatural hunters are known as the Yule Host, and in common with all these bands they are believed to gather up wandering souls and carry them away to the Otherworld.
The Twelve Days of Christmas stand outside of “ordinary time,” and celebrations focus on the return of the sun and a continuation of the eternal cycle of life.
The days from Christmas Eve on December 24th to Epiphany on the 6th of January (actually fourteen days as the first and last are not included in the twelve) really exist out of linear time. They are, in a sense, the fruit of the past year, one day for each month that has passed. Over the centuries the dates have changed – sometimes radically.
Here’s a list of commonly accepted dates and traditions:
- Day 0 – Dec 24 – Christmas Eve
- Day 1 – Dec 25 – Christmas Day, Birthday of Jesus, Mithras, Attis, Aion, Horus, Dionysus, and The Unconquered Sun.
- Day 2 – Dec 26 – St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, Day of the Wren
- Day 3 – Dec 27 – Mother Night, St John’s Day
- Day 4 – Dec 28 – Holy Innocent’s Day, Childremass, Dyzymas Day
- Day 5 – Dec 29 – Feast of Fools
- Day 6 – Dec 30 – Bringing in the Boar
- Day 7 – Dec 31 – New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay
- Day 8 – Jan 1 – New Year’s Day,
- Day 9 – Jan 2 – The Kalends of January
- Day 10: – Jan 3 – Snow Day
- Day 11 – Jan 4 – Evergreen Day
- Day 12 – Jan 5 – Twelfth Night
- Day 13 – Jan 6 – Epiphany,
When researching lore and magicks for the Twelve Days of Christmas I found a lot of disagreement as to the dates. So, from Wikipedia we have this explanation and additional information:
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 December). This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap.
Over the centuries, differing churches and sects of Christianity have changed the actual traditions, time frame and their interpretations. St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day), for example, is 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church.Boxing Day, on December 26, is observed as a legal holiday in parts of the Commonwealth of Nations. 28 December is Childermas or the Feast of the Innocents.
Currently, the twelve days and nights are celebrated in widely varying ways around the world. For example, some give gifts only on Christmas Day, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the twelve nights.
In England in the Middle Ages, this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. Continue reading
Wassailing the trees occurred on old “twelfth night”, the 12th night after Christmas eve, or January 17th on the old calendar. (Other calendars show the date as January 5th.)
Obviously traditions varied, but in Devonshire, Herefordshire and in other parts of the West Country of England (as well as elsewhere no doubt) families would hold a feast with cakes, cider and in some areas beer and ale too. After a time of eating and drinking everyone trooped out to the orchard to wassail the trees, and wake them up from winter for the coming season as well as scare off any bad energy, spirits or demons.
Ale, beer or cider soaked toast, in some areas special cakes, would be placed in the tree branches or in a fork of the tree, and then be splashed with more cider. Trees might be beaten with sticks, pounded on, pots and pans clanged, and in appropriate eras, guns that had been loaded with just powder (no shot) would be fired at the trees.
While this went on, others in the group bowed their heads and sang the special “wassail song”.
Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well
And so merry let us be
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree
Apples now, hat-fulls, three bushel bag-fulls,
tallets ole-fulls, barn’s floor-fulls,
little heap under the stairs
Hip Hip Hooroo
Hip Hip Hooroo
Hip Hip Hooroo
source: Folk Info
In Old England, The Twelfth Night marked the end of the winter festival that started on Samhain. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down with the coming of winter. In the middle ages, the Twelfth Night began on the eve of December 25th moving forward 12 days to January 6th, hence the name the twelve days of Christmas.
The Twelfth Night festival marked the onset of the winter solstice, the point in late December when the sun, whose daily arc had reached its lowest, darkest, coldest point, began its rise toward the longer, warmer days and the coming of spring. On December 25th, the ceremonial Yule log was hauled in to start the hearth fire around which its members and visitors would gather throughout the rest of the Christmas festival days.
Twelfth Night was the final frenzy of feasting, drinking and merry making before the townspeople returned to daily life for the remainder of winter. A grand cake was the focus of the celebratory feast as well as Wassail, Fig Pudding and other generous tasty handmade dishes.
In the ancient times of the Roman Saturnalia, the “king of the feast” was elected by beans, and the Twelfth Night cakes included a bean–or, later, a ring or coin. Whoever was given the slice with the prize became the queen and king for the night and much parading and merriment followed.
In the church calendar, Twelfth Night is the evening before Epiphany (January 6). Because the three wise men (or kings) arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the infant Jesus, Epiphany is also called Three Kings Day and a traditional time of gift giving.
The eleventh day of Christmas (Jan 4th) is Evergreen Day. An evergreen tree is a tree that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous trees which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.
The term “evergreen” can refer metaphorically to something that is continuously renewed or is self-renewing. One example of metaphorical use of the expression is the term “Evergreen content” used to describe perennial articles or guides about topics that do not change frequently.
On the Internet, evergreen is a term used by some ad agencies to describe a Web site that is updated on a daily or other frequent basis. A Web site that is evergreen is considered more likely to attract both first-time and repeat visitors.
In magick, evergreens are considered to have a cleansing, and revitalizing power. The aroma of evergreen trees reinvigorates and replenishes psychic and magical energy.
The tenth day of Christmas (Jan 3) is Snow Day. On this day we pay our respects to snow. No depiction of Christmas and Midwinter celebration is complete without it. Snow has so many qualities and so many aspects that it is not surprising that the Inuit people have literally hundreds of words that describe its variety of colors and texture.
So today let us devote ourselves to the contemplation and honoring of the million small crystals that drift across the lands of the Northern hemisphere at this time of the year. And, if we have no snow to look at and celebrate, let us at least remember it in all its fine whiteness, cancelling out the darkness of Midwinter and transforming even the grayest and bleakest of scenes into a place of magic.
Source: The Winter Solstice
The Kalends of January (Jan 2nd, the 9th day of Christmas) was a significant part of the Roman Midwinter celebrations, and has lent its name to Midwinter festivals all over the Western world. For example, in Provence in France the festival is known as Calendas, in Poland it is called Kolenda, and in Russia, Kolyada. In the Czech Republic it is called Koteda, in Lithuania, Kalledos, and in Wales and Scotland, Calenig and Calluinn respectively – all these names derived from the Latin Kalendae, and all referring to the festival of midwinter.
Initially the Kalends followed Saturnalia, beginning a few days of rest to allow aching heads and stomachs to recover! At this time new consuls were inducted into office, and for at least three days a high festival took place.
Houses were decorated with lights and greenery and gifts were exchanged. It was also the custom to give special presents to the emperor. These, called Votae, were left in the porch of the imperial palace, and it is recorded that the Emperor Calligula not only demanded these gifts from everyone, but also stood in the porch to collect them personally!
It may have been the memory of this that prompted the 4th century writer Libanius to describe the festival in terms that might be easily applied to the modern celebration of Christmas as to the celebrations in ancient Rome:
The impulse to spend seizes everyone..
People are not only generous themselves,
but also towards their fellow men.
A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides.
The Kalends festival banishes all that is
connected with toil, and allows men to give
themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment.
From the minds of young people it
removes two kinds of dread:
the dread of the schoolmaster and
the dread of the pedagogue.
The slave also it allows, as far as possible,
to breathe the air of freedom…
Another great quality of the festival
is that it teaches men not to hold too fast
to their money, but to part with it
and let it pass into other hands.
Source: The Winter Solstice
In Scotland, the last day of the year is called Hogmanay, the word children use to ask for their traditional present of an oatmeal cake (which is why this is also called Cake Day). Traditionally, children in small towns would wander about town, particularly in the more affluent neighborhoods, visiting their neighbors of the better class, crying at their doors, “Hogmanay!” or sometimes the following rhyme:
Gie’s of your white bread
and none of your gray!
In obedience to which call, they are served each with an oaten cake. Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne”
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
Fireworks and fire festivals are still common across Scotland, as are parties and celebrations of all kinds. There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of ‘first-footing’ which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests.
This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot. And of course, the entire spirit of a Hogmanay party is to welcome both friends and strangers with warm hospitality and of course lots of kissing all-around!
It’s believed that Hogmanay originated with the invading Vikings who celebrated the passing of the winter solstice with much revelry, but the roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year’s celebration of Samhain.
In Rome, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia, a great winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the “Daft Days” as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century
Each area of Scotland often developed its own particular Hogmanay ritual.
An example of a local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging that takes place in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire in north-east Scotland. This involves local people making up ‘balls’ of chicken wire filled with old news paper, dried sticks, old cotton rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 60 cm. Each ball has approximately 1 m of wire, chain or nonflammable rope attached.
As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off up the High Street from the Mercat Cross to the Cannon and back, swinging their burning ball around their head as they go for as many times as they and their fireball last. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbor.
Many people enjoy this display, which is more impressive in the dark than it would be during the day. As a result large crowds flock to the town to see it, with 12,000 attending the 2007/2008 event. In recent years, additional attractions have been added to entertain the crowds as they wait for midnight, such as fire poi, a pipe band, street drumming and a firework display after the last fireball is cast into the sea. The festivities are now streamed live over the Internet.
Another example of a pagan fire festival is the burning the clavie which takes place in the town of Burghead in Moray.In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers used to carry a decorated herring while in Falkland in Fife, local men would go in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills as midnight approached. Bakers in St Andrews would bake special cakes for their Hogmanay celebration (known as ‘Cake Day’) and distribute them to local children.
In Glasgow and the central areas of Scotland, the tradition is to hold Hogmanay parties involving singing, dancing, the eating of steak pie or stew, storytelling and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, which usually extend into the daylight hours of January 1.
Institutions also had their own traditions. For example, among the Scottish regiments, the officers had to wait on the men at special dinners while at the bells, the Old Year is piped out of barrack gates. The sentry then challenges the new escort outside the gates: ‘Who goes there?’ The answer is ‘The New Year, all’s well.’
An old custom in the Highlands, which has survived to a small extent and seen some degree of revival, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (Scots for ‘protecting, blessing’) of the household and livestock. This is done early on New Year’s morning with copious, choking clouds of smoke from burning juniper branches, and by drinking and then sprinkling ‘magic water’ from ‘a dead and living ford’ around the house (‘a dead and living ford’ refers to a river ford which is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, the house is sealed up tight and the burning juniper carried through the house and byre.
The smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers ‘a restorative’ from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to their New Year breakfast.
Collected from various sources