Bob Pegg

The end of the year and the beginning of a new year are significant times for many people in the world. The yearly cycle is important to people who plant and raise crops and so some sort of time keeping is crucial. There are people who use the moon cycles as the markers of months, but these do not mesh well with the solar year (the amount of time it takes for the earth to circle the sun). People who use solar calendars reckon time by the sun’s movement. The sun rises each day at a slightly different place along the eastern horizon. It reaches its northern most point about June 21st (the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – the shortest in the southern) and thereafter it begins a slow but steady movement each day further and further south. By Dec. 21st the sun has gone as far south as it is going to go. The days have been getting progressively shorter in the northern hemisphere as the southward journey takes place. For many peoples this southerly movement was a bit worrisome. What would happen if the sun kept going and didn’t come back? Would we have perpetual night?

In a sense, the year can be divided into two parts – one when the days are longer that shorter (roughly May 21 until Sept. 21) and one when the days are shorter than longer (Sept 21-May 21). Hence there is a “summer” and a “winter” season. The middle of the Winter season falls about the 21st of December, hence it is often referred to as “midwinter”. Now-a-days December 21st is often seen as the first day of winter, rather than midwinter.

The Romans celebrate Saturnalia at this time (Saturn being the bringer of Old Age) The year was waning and about to “die” and hopefully replaced by a new year being born.

With the advent of Christianity, things changed. Some Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ (which the Bible indicates would have been in the spring, since Christ is born “while shepherds watch their flocks by night” which is only done in the spring when the lambs are being born). Rather than be detected as Christians, they moved their celebration to fall on Saturnalia when non Christians were beginning to notice the slight movement of the sun back to the North.

The pagan festivals are often associated with fires which, like the sun give heat and light and last for a long enough time for the observant to notice the definite movement of the sun northward. So a period surrounding the advent of the shortest day of the year becomes significant. This “Yule” season is marked in Christianity as the epiphany which takes the Christmas season though the 12 days of Christmas culminating on the 6th of January – the supposed date of the arrival of the “Three Wise Men”.

The result has been had been in many places a kind of carousing left over from pagan times and pagan symbols of eternal life and renewal through the winter and new year abound – the most prevalent of which is currently the pine Christmas tree which certain has no connection with the Middle East or the Biblical version of the Christmas story.

Pegg looks at the ways in which the festivals of the holiday season have changed over the years – in part because Christmas had been banned as a festival by the Reformed Church in 1560. Indeed it does not become a legal holiday in Scotland until 1958. From a starting point in which Pegg looks at the possible origins and meanings of the word Hogmanay in its various spellings throughout time and place, he examines a host of events and behaviors associated with the holiday and the holiday season many of which retain something of their pagan values. Through eight chapters, Pegg describes, examine and discusses many aspects of the holiday from the raucous noises that people make at New Years; the customs of visiting (and indeed of strange visitors); the lighting of fires; sports and amusements and hospitality. All of these and more are considered in this small book which gives insight into the way in which the current customs about Hogmanay and the surrounding days vary and what kinds of things have influenced the ways in which they have come into being.

The book is very readable and enjoyable which is not surprising since Pegg is a story teller and musician whose has traveled and performed extensively around Scotland. He has also published Highland Folk Tales

The Little Book of Hogmanay
Bob Pegg
The History Press
143 pp.



The Fiddle in the Highlands - Pamphlet

The pamphlet “The Fiddle in the Highlands” was written by Alan Bruford and Ailie Munro, of Edinburgh © 1973. Illustrations by Gordon Harvey of Inverness. It was printed by John G, Eccles Longman, Inverness and was published by An Comunn Gàidhealach with whose kind permission we publish it here.

A fascinating trip through the history of the fiddler and his fiddle. The pamphlet includes some music scores so you can play along.

These pamphlets have been scanned and therefore are large image files.

Click each link to read one page at a time


Scottish Tweets

collected by cecilia

The above twitter account belongs to Donna Yates, an American living in Scotland is an "Archaeologist in a criminology dept, I study antiquities trafficking, archaeology, & art crime. Not your average antiquarian." She studies the looting and trafficking of goods from archaeological sites for the Trafficking Culture Project at the University of Glasgow. Her other twitter account: @LegoAcademics uses legos figures to reenact daily life in academia. I had to include it because it activated my nerd sense.