Tomorrow is just another day. Not. I am a Scot, partially by birth and partially by adoption. To no Scot whosoever, wheresoever, are today or tomorrow anything like normal days.
At Christmas Scotland strives for, and often fails at, good cheer, for the ghost of John Knox sits over all with Northumberland gloom, and mere materialism steps into the gulf even more readily than in England. Before the New Year, cheerfulness suddenly springs up in all its glory. It is natural to greet returning friends and former neighbours with cries of joy, blocking crowded supermarket aisles, while harassed shoppers ponder on just how much whisky, and lager, and ham and sausage rolls will ensure family and friends, and (even today) chance visitors will not go hungry, which actually means will not go without being stuffed to satiety.
There is a small frenzy of cleaning. Less than there used to be, but dear knows the Scots are particular at the best of times. Paintwork is washed down, floors vacuumed threadbare. And life is cleared out. The past year is reviewed. Its sorrows are brought to mind, and, in so far as they can be, dismissed. Guilt and remorse and misfortune are let go. Joys too are counted up.
There is a no-man’s-land between day and day. Most do not have to work then, but can rest. Now that time, nobody’s time, our own time, is transformed into a time of transition — part old year, and part new. It becomes Hogmanay. It starts in loss and expectation. And food and drink and dancing. It is a ceremony of letting go and drowning out — washing away if you like. And we do like it. Then comes ‘the Bells’. Midnight. The witching hour, the moment, the actual moment of transformation. The old year is finally dead, danced to death like a sacrifice. The new year is created. And the new year is beautiful, untrodden, pure. It stretches on and on. The daylight part of the First is liable to pass in a bit of a haze, even for non-drinkers, due to exhaustion. Those who managed doucely to bed at a reasonable hour of one or two in the morning set about creating a family feast. It is a day of new clothes and best dresses. The Second follows it, a public holiday in a country where most holidays are merely regional, and family and friends are visited, old jokes dusted off, and hopes for the new year counted out. And the third. From time to time Scots find themselves dragged back to their place of work on the third. Unhappy co-incidences of the calendar occasionally indicate it. That is not to say, of course, they actually do much work. It feels all wrong. And evenings are probably devoted to catching up with friends. Eating those sausage rolls before they go out of date. So, gradually, Scots re-enter life for a new start, with re-considered aspirations.
You understand it is a wholly secular time. Not.
Rosemary Hannah is a writer and historian living near Glasgow.