Real English: Scottish Christmas & Hogmanay

The month’s Real English lesson is about Scottish Christmas and New Year traditions. Learn about why Christmas was banned in Scotland for over 400 years and how we celebrate Hogmanay, or New year’s Eve.

Picture of a red ornament that says Scotland hung on a Christmas tree

Was Christmas banned in Scotland?

The short answer is yes! Thanks to the Protestant reformation, Christmas was considered a “popeish” celebration and too closely aligned with the Catholic church. Christmas was instead made a working day, and people were encouraged to spend in the day in thoughtful prayer and contemplation. However, winter in Scotland is dark and cold, and that meant that a lot of work couldn’t be done. For example, fishermen and farmers had nothing to do because it gets dark so early!

Hogmanay, the word for New Year’s Eve, was seen as an acceptable thing to celebrate by the Kirk (Church of Scotland) as it was about fresh starts and new beginnings, so it became the main winter festival in the country. A lot of traditions are associated with Hogmanay. They include:

  • ​Saying “Lang may yer lum reek!” (Long may your chimney smoke) for good luck
  • Before the bells (when it is midnight), you have to clean the house, take the ashes out from under the fire and settle your debts. Basically, clear out the remains of the old year to have a fresh new one
  • Sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight


First footing is also a big deal! First footing is going to visit your neighbours after midnight To bring good luck, a first footer should be a tall dark (and handsome) stranger carrying coal, salt, a black bun, a dram and shortbread


In villages people used to dress up in the hides of cattle and run around the village whilst being hit by sticks. And we traditionally eat a steak pie on New Year’s Day.

Hogmanay is such a big deal in Scotland that we have the first AND second of January off! Watch our video to find out more about how we celebrate.

Make sure to look at our Quizlet set before you watch the video

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We did a fantastic Scottish History class on the history of Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland which is available to all of our Online Unlimited students. You can join our Scottish History, Vocabulary Building, Lunchtime Lessons and Book Group classes as well as have access to all of our self study and skills resources for only £50 a month! We also offer a one week trial FOR FREE!

Vocabulary from the video

Here are some more examples and definitions of the vocabulary we looked at in the video

  • Grind to a halt – if a country, organization, or process grinds to a halt, its activity or the process gradually stops e.g After two days the talks had ground to a halt.
  • give somebody/something the green light – to allow a project, plan etc to begin e.g The government has given the green light to Sunday trading.
  • go all out – to put all your energy or enthusiasm into what you are doing e.g  The team went all out for a win.
  • hang something  up to hang clothes on a hook etc e.g  She took her coat off and hung it up.
  • take something down to move something that is fixed in a high position to a lower position e.g  She made us take down all the posters.
  • Wrap something up –  to cover or surround something in paper, cloth, or other material e.g Have you wrapped up Jenny’s present yet?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hogmanay!

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