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new year

<em>Picture: ben hanbury</em>

Picture: ben hanbury

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Like Christmas, Hogmanay is associated with eating and drinking, although not usually now in that order of importance. Formerly, though, Hogmanay was more associated with eating, particularly if you were a child. It was the custom for children to go round the houses asking for a gift, usually a cake or something sweet, giving the festival the name of Cake Day.

Incidentally, the giving of gifts on Hogmanay is thought by many people to have a bearing on the origin of the word Hogmanay, although the etymology is uncertain. The most widely accepted suggested origin is that Hogmanay is based on the French word aguillanneuf, meaning first a gift given at New Year and then the festival of New Year itself. The clue is in the second part of the French word which reads l’an neuf, French for New Year.

Nowadays, Hogmanay is still associated with the giving of gifts and it is thought to bring ill-luck to a household if a visitor crosses the threshold in the early hours of New Year without some form of gift. This is particularly true if the empty-handed visitor is the first foot, first fit in Scots, the first person to cross a threshold after midnight has struck.

Sometimes New Year gifts still take the form of sweet things such as shortbread or the immensely calorific black bun, a kind of cake consisting of a pastry case surrounding an extremely rich fruitcake mixture. Sometimes the gift will be a piece of coal, traditionally given to ensure a steady source of warmth throughout the year, although this could be a vain hope in these days of soaring fuel costs.

Mostly nowadays, though, visitors at New Year will be clutching a bottle of whisky. Unless they are exceptionally generous or exceptionally drunk, the bottle of whisky is not actually a gift. The gift for the host is just a glass poured from the bottle which is hastily put back in the visitor’s pocket.

And at last I get to the reason for the title of this article! Forget the cake and even the shortbread and black bun. Hogmanay and New Year are now largely drinking festivals, a time when what Burns described in Tam o’ Shanter as “drouthy neebors” meet to see in the New Year in an alcoholic haze.

Drouthy, also commonly spelt droothy, means thirsty, although the thirst involved is usually a desire for strong drink rather than for water or other beverage. (In the quotation from Burns, neebors is Scots for neighbours.) Often the desire for such a drink is not just a thirst but an addiction. A drouthy neebor may well be an alcoholic one. Those of Tam o’ Shanter were almost certainly so.

Originally, drouthy referred to the weather and meant dry or exceptionally dry. I seem to remember that we used occasionally to have drouthy summers, but recently these have largely disappeared. They still have these in the south, although not so called, but they have become part of the north/south divide, leaving us with several inches of rain while our southern neighbours complain of a drought.

Originally, drought meant simply dryness and it is etymologically connected with Scots drouth, from which drouthy is formed. Both drought and drouth have their roots in Old English drugath.

Drouth can also mean thirst, and Hogmanay revellers are likely to have a great drouth on them. If they regularly give in to such a drouth too often, they may themselves grow into drouths, in other words habitual drinkers or alcoholics. Eventually, they may end up literally dying for a drink.

But away with such a depressing and sobering thought. It’s Hogmanay! Slainte! All the best for 2012!

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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The masthead of The Caledonian Mercury's last paper edition

The masthead of The Caledonian Mercury's last paper edition

Happy New Year, all.

2011 promises much: with a Scottish General Election looming and a decidedly unpopular and unScottish (in policy if not personnel) coalition running the show in Westminster. The economy and environment appear to be competing to see which can be the most disruptive.

In short, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

And as the year twists and turns, The Caledonian Mercury will bring you even more of the key stories, the finest writing and the best insights. Thanks to you, 2010 was a great success for this reborn publication. 2011 will be even better.

Our staff are nursing their hangovers engaged in in-depth research on 1 and 2 January, 2011, but normal service will be resumed on 3 January. In the meantime, Here are the stories you enjoyed most from The Caledonian Mercury in 2010.

Thank you for reading,

Stewart Kirkpatrick
Editor, The Caledonian Mercury

1. Couple who met at university to marry

“Two people who went to university together are to get married, it has emerged. William Windsor (or possibly Wales or possibly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and Kate Middleton, both 28, met at St Andrews University eight years ago. Mr Windsor is a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF – and also a prince.”

The entire Caledonian Mercury newsroom stood to attention as we published the above. Jaded hardened hacks were, in that one time and that one place, joined together with so many across the world in in a universal sense of “meh”.

We are already preparing our breathless Royal Wedding coverage for that special day in April: “Couple who met at university get married.”

2. Six things Malcolm McLaren thought of before you did
The great rock’n’roll swindler passed on in April. John McKie’s tribute pointed out why – love him or hate him – Malcolm McLaren was unique.

3. Welcome to The Caledonian Mercury
This was the article that told the world what we are all about.

We seek to revive Scottish journalism by using the internet rather than railing against it. The Caledonian Mercury stands for intelligent reporting, informed analysis and raising the standard of debate in Scottish life. It also seeks to return journalism to journalists and is a platform to display the work of selected specialist writers – freed from the demands of filling space, toeing the line and “feeding the beast”.

Not a week goes by without someone referring to this article: usually to say how much we have betrayed it because we’ve published something with which they disagree…

4. Less healthy women prefer more masculine men
Ah, vive la différence. Stories about desire and its many secrets are of interest to us all. This piece discussed research which showed that women who lived in communities where poor health was the norm were attracted to more masculine-looking men.

5. The secret of a long and happy sex life
If there’s one word that gets our attention (though we would largely deny it) it’s “sex”. And a story which promises carnal delights into our old age was always going to be widely read.

6. Researchers demand smaller (and bigger) condoms for better sex
Apparently size does matter in some respects…

7. That volcano, from Iceland’s perspective
While we all wondered at April’s empty skies (well, empty apart from ash), this piece took a look at what was happening in Iceland while the planes of Europe were earthbound.

8. The rise of the ’salty penis’ as South Africa bow out
The World Cup threw up many interesting phenomena: the vuvuzela, the North Korean fans, the exit of England. The linguistic curiosity of the “sout piel” was a new one to us.

9. Big cat sighting leaves experienced hillwalker baffled
It’s been quite a year for zoological oddness (what with the reindeer attack story which we broke – though you wouldn’t guess that from the traditional papers that picked it up). This piece gives paws for thought (sorry) about what might be out there.

10. 13 haunted Scottish castles
This entertaining piece of hokum about allegedly supernatural fastnesses attracted interest from around the world, if not from beyond the grave.

We wish all our readers, living or dead, a’ the best for 2011.

Torchlight processionBy John Knox

Over 20,000 torchlit faces paraded past me as I stood at the top of the Royal Mile. Eager faces, foreign faces, home-grown faces, mostly young faces, all swathed in funny caps and looking up towards the flames of their wax-stick torches. They were marching out of the old year at St Giles’ Cathedral and into the new on Calton Hill.

Welcome to the Edinburgh three-day Hogmanay, largest street party in the world.

The Viking hordes from Shetland’s Up Helly Aa led the fiery procession, followed by a pipe band and then a river of flames which took nearly an hour to flow past me. Fireworks blasted into the sky as the march began and, once it reached Calton Hill, still more fireworks lit the murky heavens. The chill of the winter snow was gone and groups of friends, young families and wide-eyed visitors strolled around the streets as if this was the Athens of the South.

But this was just the beginning of a festival which has become a tradition only in the last few years. Before Edinburgh discovered the tourist trade, Hogmanay was a dark and private affair, confined to hotel dining rooms and home parlours.

Now, the Torchlight Procession is followed by a rock concert, headed this year by Biffy Clyro. On Hogmanay itself, 80,000 people are due to attend the street party in Princes Street, sing Auld Lang Syne and watch the midnight firework display. On New Year’s Day there will be a One O’Clock Run down the Royal Mile and a swim in the Forth for the Loony Dookers. There’ll be an open-air folk concert, then another rock concert with KT Tunstall. And finally, on Sunday, there’s a “Big Bash” clash at Murrayfield between the rugby teams of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Glasgow, of course, is staging its own Hogmanay celebrations in George Square headed by Celtic bands Capercaillie, Skerryvore and Salsa Celtica. Skerryvore will then scurry along the motorway to Stirling to perform again on the castle esplanade later that evening. In Aberdeen there will be a firework display from the roof of His Majesty’s Theatre. In Inverness, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Peatbog Fairies and Blazing Fiddles will give a free concert.

And among the small-town celebrations, my favourites are the whirling fireballs in Stonehaven and the bigger and bigger bonfire in Biggar.

It’s as if Scotland is trying to hold back the darkness of winter especially this year. We have staggered out of the worst snowstorms for 40 years and the worst recession for 70 years. Now we are heading into the New Year with our guttering wax-sticks, defiant fireworks and glowing faces.

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Picture: Scottish Government

Picture: Scottish Government

In response to Diane’s somewhat painful list, I thought I’d find some (mostly)nicer versions, this time from the world of cinema. Auld Lang Syne has appeared in dozens of films over the years – from the 1920s to the present day. Sometimes it’s pivotal to the action, sometimes not, and some are memorable perhaps not for the best reasons. Here’s a small selection, complete with clips where I’ve been able to find them.

When Harry Met Sally (1989) (twice)
Okay, so it’s a bit of a cheat including the same film twice, but there is good reason for it. Auld Lang Syne is particularly important in When Harry Met Sally and, arguably, makes good use of the song as a cultural signifier: it’s shorthand, if you like, for the end of the year, the start of the new year and the automatic celebration this is supposed to bring. It’s also sexy. Auld Lang Syne is used reasonably early on in the film when the eponymous characters are still in the “friend zone” – or are they? A Hogmanay party is the scene and they are dancing together quite the thing, when suddenly there’s a frisson between them. It could go either way but, as the strains of Auld Lang Syne begin, they almost visibly shake it off and kiss – somewhat uncomfortably, maybe, but platonically.

It’s a different story at the end of the film the song comes up again. At this stage, the lyrics even merit a discussion. Harry asks what the words mean, saying he’s been singing it all his life and doesn’t know. How can you remember old acquaintance if you’ve forgotten them, he asks, quite reasonably. Sally, a bit tearful, says that maybe you’re supposed to remember you’ve forgotten them, or something – but that in any case, it’s about old friends. (At that point, presumably, they go home to shag –see the power of this song?). Here is the ending:

Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, clearly recognises the filmic value of Auld Lang Syne: she also used it to good effect in the lesser Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which itself was reprising its use in the Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr classic, An Affair to Remember (1957), and so on.

Sex and the City (2008)
I’m “indebted” to a US academic for drawing my attention to this Mairi Campbell version of Auld Lang Syne, as featured in the first movie outing of the Sex and the City girls. Indebted has the sarky quotation marks round it, not because it isn’t a beautiful version – it is, sung hauntingly and not to the usual tune – and not because it isn’t a fabulous sequence (it’s lovely, and apparently it’s the best bit – only good bit? – of the film). The scene shows Carrie deciding to bolt (or waft, rather, with a permanent look of surprise) down to the other side of New York to share the bells with a chum who is going through a hard time. Her race against the clock cuts away at various points to update us on what’s happening with the other characters. Anyway, my sarkiness is because the academic – who was giving a talk on the use of Burns in the movies at a Royal Society of Edinburgh event – treated us to a running commentary of who ended up with whom and who didn’t by the end of the film – with no spoiler alert! I had been planning to watch the DVD the following weekend – guess what, it’s still in its wrapper.

Youtube has it here:

The RSE Burns conference report is here:

Wee Willie Winkie (1939)

Sometimes something can be memorable for the wrong reasons.

A favourite scene in my beloved Chalet School books* involves a charming little girl known as The Robin, singing a Russian folk song called The Red Sarafan at the bedside of the heroine, Joey Bettany, who is thought to be dying after rescuing another girl from an icy lake in the Austrian Tyrol.

Joey survives and it’s thought that the sweet tones of The Robin saved her life.

Surely the opposite must be true in this 1937 Shirley Temple vehicle, directed by John Ford. Temple, whose nickname gives the film its title, sings a couple of verses of Auld Lang Syne while clutching a pith helmet to her breast (lest we forget we’re in Colonial India) at the bedside of a dying soldier. The highlight is her pronunciation of “gie us”. Unlike Joey, the good sergeant – a Scot – passes away as the little songbird trills by his side. One can only imagine it was something of a relief. Judge for yourself in this Youtube clip:

*The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. This particular episode occurs in The Rivals of the Chalet School, first published in 1939.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Home loans to poorer people under threat, slum landlords abounding, runs on the bank and a good man brought to his knees – it might be a film for our times. Given so much misery, however, why is It’s a Wonderful Life considered such an uplifting Christmas classic? Perhaps that’s summed up not so much by Clarence, the angel seeking his wings, but by the choice of the song which brings the townspeople together. A rousing version of Auld Lang Syne appears to break out spontaneously with – and does this ever actually happen in Scotland these days? – everybody knowing all the words. Youtube has it here:.

Director Frank Capra, incidentally, was quite a fan – using it in other films such as Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) with Gary Cooper and that other famous James Stewart vehicle Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Thanks due to Wikipedia, by the way, for this piece of Capra information. That source also reveals many other instances of the use of Auld Lang Syne in cinema, although its list isn’t exhaustive. It includes John Ford’s The Black Watch (1929), Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat (1959) (with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis) and The Apartment, where it is the backdrop to the Shirley MacLaine character’s decision to leave her lover.

It’s also played in The Poseidon Adventure – just before the ship begins to sink…..

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Picture: CmdrGravy

Picture: CmdrGravy

As an Englishman living in Ibiza I probably sound as if I am the least qualified of people to criticise the Scots for selling out their birthright. But lack of qualifications has never held me back in the past and, anyway, distance can usefully provide some perspective.

In my lifetime I feel as if I have watched the death of Hogmanay with the final nail being hammered in at the end of 1995. That was the date of the first of the massive Edinburgh tourist-oriented events, the point when the council decided to cash in on tradition.

As for most people, my memories of Hogmanay are misted by nostalgia and alcohol, not necessarily in that order. My first was spent in Stonehaven as I stumbled from 1974 into 1975.

I didn’t know the town, but was staying with a friend from Edinburgh University where I’d started the previous October. The fireballs were an internationally-known event, however, I don’t recall bumping into any tourists although I met an awful lot of people. Everybody in the town, of all ages, seemed to have the stamina to last the night.

Wandering from door to door with my bottle of whisky, each living room appeared to have a wall of red cans. So many welcomes, but somehow by daylight I made it back to where I started. I’ve no more idea how I did that, than how I managed to eat and retain the plate of steak pie and stovies that followed too soon after my return.

It was all a stark contrast to my limited experience of English new year. The reason it was limited was that it was an event that seemed relevant only to a small group of people, those old enough to drink and young enough to be single. Everybody else was in bed or raising a glass of Asti Spumante with the White Heather Club on TV. (Little did I know what an influential programme that would turn out to be.)

There were simple cultural distinctions: Hogmany was the Scottish midwinter family event. In England that role was filled by Christmas. In much the same way, south of the border had Guy Fawkes Night while north had Hallowe’en.

I watched over 20 years from the mid-1970s as Christmas in Scotland began to eclipse Hogmanay as a family event. It wasn’t just it became more English, but both country’s Happy Holidays grew increasingly American. Now there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the frantic Yuletide consumer frenzy on either side of the border.

New Year, however, remained a much bigger deal in Scotland. Most conspicuously nothing, except the odd Chinese restaurant, was open on Ne’erday. This meant that most of the population could enjoy their Hogmanay and resulting hangover even if they normally worked in a shop, restaurant, pub or tourist attraction. 1 January was a day of recuperation and football.

That was pretty much the situation until Edinburgh council worked out how it could leverage the Scottish reputation nurtured by the likes of the White Heather Club and create a nice big commercial event. Of course it’s been remarkably successful. It fills hotels, restaurants, clubs and bars, giving an all-round boost to tourism at a time of year which would otherwise be dead.

But the great street party which fills the centre of the capital, along with the others taking place in Scottish cites, is not a family event. The cheerful, raucous, inebriated crowd is aged mainly from 16 to 30. Everybody else is in bed or toasting the new year in front of the television, just as they are south of the Border.

Until I moved to Spain I thought this sort of cultural homogenisation was almost inevitable. Now I’m not so sure. The festive period here is very different and, I feel, that represents something quite profound.

This is the sixth Christmas and New Year I’ve spent in Ibiza. It has changed over that time. There are more decorations in shops and in the streets, but it’s still incredibly low-key commercially in comparison with Scotland. In supermarkets, for instance, there are small seasonal displays from November, but these are made up almost entirely of special mostly almond sweets known as “turon”. Some shop windows are filled entirely with spectacular nativity scenes which exist entirely for show, not for sale.

On Christmas Eve families eat a meal of seafood rather than importing American traditional turkey. Christmas Day is quiet. Our neighbour was not unusual in spending it doing DIY. I drove past a large funfair which was doing a roaring trade in the evening.

New Year’s Eve begins similarly low-key. As I discovered a few years ago, at midnight there’s not a soul on the streets. Everybody is with their families drinking cava and eating 12 grapes for luck as the clock strikes. Then, around 1am. many bars and nightclubs open. The crowds appear, looking slightly unusual. That’s because this is the only night of the year when most local lads wear suits and ties.

But, the big festive night, at least for anybody aged under 15, is 5 January. This marks the arrival of the Three Kings. Throughout Spain there are processions led by floats carrying Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior who throw sweets to children. In Ibiza they arrive by boat before visiting all the island’s towns the following day which is when children receive their present. (And it usually is “present” singular.)

The reason I mention all this is because tradition here seems so much more resilient than it is in Scotland. Of course, inevitably some outside influences are absorbed, given the combination of rising prosperity, the global mass media and the number of northern European immigrants in Spain.

But, for whatever reasons, the Spanish don’t exploit many of their traditions commercially. In Ibiza, for instance, there are village fiestas through the summer months which, if they’re advertised at all, use only Catalan in their posters and flyers. It’s certainly not that tourists are unwelcome, but they’re not the target audience for the event. The aim is for locals to have a good time and they do.

Now, it can be argued that Hogmanay was dying as a family and community-oriented event long before 1996. But, it’s been the success of Edinburgh and other large-scale city-centre street parties that has killed or, perhaps, put it out of its misery. Certainly for a large part of the Scottish population a traditional New Year is now spent with a bottle at an organised event or with a glass watching the same event on TV.

It’s Hogmanay, but not as we knew it.

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By Betty Kirkpatrick

Photo: sharedferret on Flickr

Edinburgh at Hogmanay

Nothing stays the same and Hogmanay is no exception. It is till alive and kicking and living in Scotland, but changes have inevitably taken place to this festival. Some customs have been modified and some are either on the wane or have perished

Probably the best known Hogmanay custom, apart from drinking whisky, is first- footing. Nowadays, the word first-footing is often used to describe the practice of going round the houses visiting neighbours, family and friends after midnight. In fact, as the name indicates, only the first person to cross a threshold after midnight has struck has the right to be called a first- foot, known in Scots as first-fit.

It was, and is, a requirement of first-foots (for I cannot believe that it should be first-feet) that they carry some kind of gift over the threshold of the house which they are visiting. Gifts and Hogmanay have an old connection. Formerly on Hogmanay, people, especially children, would go round the houses knocking on doors and asking for a gift, usually a cake or something sweet, Hogmanay being sometimes known as Cake Day. As they went on their merry way, they recited:

Rise up, guid wife, an’ shake your feathers,
Dinna think that we are beggars:
We are bairns come out to play,
Get up and gie’s our Hogmanay!

But back to our first-foots. Being first-footed by someone who was empty-handed was formerly regarded as a great disaster. There was much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. The reason for this was that an empty-handed first-foot was thought to bring bad luck to the household for the rest of the year.

Some householders were sharp enough to spot the absence of a gift in the hands of the first-foot before this person crossed the threshold. The first foot would then be handed something, such as a well-recycled tin of shortbread, to carry in. Bad luck was averted.

If it was too late, and the giftless first-foot was already through the door, then swift action was called for to avert bad luck. This included throwing some salt in the fire, burning a piece of straw up a chimney or taking a glowing ember from the fire and putting it in a bowl of water next morning. Do either of these actions work? I don’t know, but they’re worth a try. Who wants to have bad luck all year?

I suspect that people in general are less superstitious these days. They may object to an empty-handed first-foot because this indicates meanness rather than because it presages ill-luck. In fact, it is not only the first-foot that is expected to bring a gift. Everyone who crosses the threshold at New Year should do so.

Now we come to the nature of the gift carried by the first foot. According to tradition, one of these gifts should be a piece of coal or peat. Such a gift is supposed to ensure that there will be a steady source of warmth in the house throughout the year. In these days of central heating, I wonder if any of the energy companies have thought of producing a gift voucher to replace the coal. I think I will patent that idea.

Again, according to tradition, the first-foot should be carrying some form of food, often cake, to ensure a steady source of sustenance throughout the year. Time for that recycled tin of shortbread again! An alternative to shortbread, and now considerably less common, is black bun, a kind of cake consisting of a pastry case surrounding an extremely rich fruitcake mixture. A very small piece has enough calories to see you through the whole of January at the very least.

Most importantly, then and now, the first-foot should be carrying a bottle of whisky. Unless he is exceptionally generous or exceptionally drunk, the first-foot is not expected to hand over the bottle as a gift. Instead, he pours a glass for his host and the host reciprocates with a glass from his own bottle. They exchange seasonal greetings of ‘a guid New Year ’. For those in need of a translation, guid means good.

I do not think that many of the younger generation at least will worry too much about the appearance of the first person to cross their threshold after midnight on December 31. It was not always thus. Traditionally, the first-foot has to be male. First-footing is no job for a mere woman.

The next requirement for a first-foot is that he should be dark-haired. This did not seem to be a particularly difficult qualification when I was young. In those day in my part of rural Scotland at least, most people seemed to be dark-haired or darkish, well, dark mouse at least. Where did all these fair-haired people that are around nowadays come from? They are by no means all bottle blondes. I suspect that there was another more recent and secret Viking invasion.

Preferably the first foot should be tall, but, on the whole, the Scots are not known for their extreme height. There was no official test of height. Anybody but the very small, those who in Politically Correct English would be referred to as vertically challenged, would probably pass muster.

What happened if your first-foot was not a relatively tall dark male? It will come as no surprise to you that this would result in bad luck overcoming the household for the rest of the year. Many families averted this potential source of bad luck by designating their first foot ahead of time, often a member of the family. Such an important thing could not be left to chance.

People belonging to certain occupations were unwelcome as first-foots because they would bring ill-luck. These included ministers, doctors or gravediggers. Presumably this was because of the connection between these occupations and death.

It was considered unlucky not to have a sparkling clean house with which to greet the dawning of the New Year. Thus, women spent hours dusting, sweeping and scrubbing in order to achieve such a gleaming home by midnight on December 31. (Note that this, unlike the more arduous practice of first-footing, was considered to be women’s work.)

All the cleaning, including the carrying out of ashes from the fire, had to be completed by midnight. When everything was spick and span, dried juniper used to be burned in the house. Then the door was opened to let a blast of fresh air in to finish the cleansing process. Nowadays, you can just buy a perfumed room spray at the supermarket. I doubt if they have juniper, though.

There are a great many ways to put yourself at risk from ill-luck on the last night of the year. One of these ways is to be away from your own home ‘for the bells’, that is at the moment when midnight is sounded by local church bells, or more recently by Big Ben on the TV. People who are worried about ill-luck, and who are already out revelling, come rushing home to be with their family as midnight strikes before rushing out again to continue with their revels.

At Hogmanay parties it is now common to sing a version of Auld Lang Syne to celebrate the New Year. Please do try not to pronounce syne as though it begins with the letter z. It rhymes with sign, meaning indication or omen, not with the second syllable of resign, The z version grates on Scottish ears, especially mine.

Why not bring in the New Year with the more traditional Scots New Year song below? Note that guid=good, ane=one, a=all, an=and, mony=many

A guid new year to ane and a
An mony may ye see.
An during a the years to come
O happy may ye be.

This translates loosely as All the best for the New Year. Happy New Year!

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An Italian man opted to steal from his local cornershop and end up in jail rather than spend New Year with his in-laws, Reuters reports.  Unsuccessful in a previous attempt to get Sicilian authorities to send him to jail – his polite request to be arrested was turned down – the 35-year-old walked to the tobacco shop next door, stole some sweets and chewing gum and threatened the owner with a box-cutting tool,  then waited for the police to arrive. Felice Anno Nuovo indeed.