HOGMANAY is one of Scotland's most important dates in the calendar and was once more celebrated than Christmas.

It was once known as the night of the candle or the night of the blows. The candle most likely relates to religious ceremonies or from a candle being lit to see New Year in.

The night of the blows refers to the hitting of dried cattle hides that were used in the evening when a man would place it on his head and the boys and men would follow him, hitting the hide so it made the noise like a drum.

The procession would go round every house in the village, keeping the house on their right-hand side, hitting the walls, and shouting until they reached the door of one at which point, they recited a rhyme.

Only when this rhyme was repeated three times were the men allowed inside. They were then offered refreshments such as oatcakes, cheese, meat, as it was to be eaten both at Christmas and New Year, and, of course, a dram.

Cheese was traditionally used so that in the year ahead, should any man or boy get lost in fog, he could peek through it and it would clear the way ahead.

Another tradition was to clamber on the roof, then, looking through the hole where the smoke from the fire would escape in these old homes, the man, or woman, would find out the name of the person he or she would marry.

It was important to keep the fire burning on Hogmanay; however, no-one was to go near it. To make sure this would not happen candles were placed near it and kept burning, hence the night of the candles.

Another rhyme was said while feeding the fire to keep the evil away from the house for the following year. If it did go out, no-one could go to their neighbour for kindling as it was deemed unlucky on New Year's Day, and it was said witches would do their evil to the cattle.

If the fire died out, it was very much seen as a major failure.

While it roared, however, the women baked bread so no cooking would need to be done on New Year's Day, as that was unlucky.

The older men of the village would pay attention to the wind on that last day of the year.

Depending on the way it was blowing, it was thought that would be the prevailing wind for the rest of the year.

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GETTING up on Hogmanay morning resulted in everyone on the house receiving a dram.

Following that, a spoonful of half-boiled sowens or fermented oats, was given for luck.

This tradition was mainly to be found in the central Highlands but was known elsewhere in the country.

Following the dram and sowens, everyone greeted each other in the house and wished them well for the year ahead.

Outside meeting friends, neighbours or even strangers, 'A guid new year tae ye' was often the greeting, and still is to this day.

The response was always, 'the same tae ye, and many o' them'.

The boys then went out to play, in the Highlands shinty in a nearby field, which was seen as lucky, and in the Lowlands, a ball game, then the feasting began.

Breakfast was a fairly large affair, and would no doubt be helpful in absorbing the whisky of the night before.

Nothing could be put out of the house that day, not even the ashes of the fire. Dirty water, rubbish and even the sweepings of the house had to stay in until January 2.

It was traditional to pass some of the fire to neighbours whose fires had died out overnight, as that had given the evil spirits the chance to do their mischief, and could even mean a death within the year, so fires were relit as soon as possible after the breakfast.

It was, and is still, seen as unlucky for a woman to be the first to enter into the house or for anyone to enter empty handed.

In days gone by, a young man taking in a bundle of corn bode well for the year's harvest. However, an old woman asking for kindling was a bad omen.

The person entering the house is known as the First Foot, as they are the first to cross the threshold in this New Year. First footing is an important part of the New Year tradition.

New Year's Day was very much a day for being on your guard to keep the evil spirits away from the house and from the cattle and superstitious traditions were carried out.

One example is the burning of juniper in the byre and the cattle sprinkled with wine. Houses always had mountain ash in them. These are no longer done.

These are just some Scottish traditions from days gone-by. Some are still observed, such as taking a small offering such as a piece of cake, bottle of whisky or a lump of coal when first footing.