KilquhanityAli Hyde

I love New Year. LOVE New Year. One of the main reasons for this, undoubtedly, is that I usually spend it in Scotland. New Year, or Hogmanay, is a huge cultural event there.

It’s often celebrated with a ceilidh – a traditional Scottish Highland dance – accompanied by a live band. The band will play a set of traditional pieces for each dance and most bands have their own ‘caller’: someone who demonstrates the dance and calls out the steps as you perform it with the music. Each dance is repeated so, by the time that it’s over, you know what you’re doing to the extent where you’re not expending all of your energy on trying to remember who to Dozy Do with next. The dances have names as fun as the dances themselves, such as the Gay Gordons and Strip the Willow. One of my personal favourites, however, is the Dashing White Sergeant.

“The words ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?’ remind me to remember the years past and the friendships made that need to be sustained as a new volume of my life is begun.”

Let me tell you, there is very little I find as exciting as the first chord of a ceilidh dance. And very little I find so relieving as the final chord, when one’s body has given up two repetitions of the dance ago and one is being carried along by sheer exuberance. Ceilidh music is traditional Scottish music, usually played on instruments such as the accordion and fiddle, with some pieces having the same name as the dances they’re used for (such as the Dashing White Sergeant heard above), others traditionally being used for a certain dance and others, such as waltzes, appropriate for many different dances. Ceilidh music is perfect for dancing – strong beats, catchy melodies, and inspiring true happiness.

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra playing The Dashing White Sergeantwearsitwell

Ceilidhs are fantastically fun events – though not just around New Year: I celebrated my 18th with one. Getting awkward, lanky 18-year-old lads to enjoy doing the polka with little old ladies was no mean feat but they did. I highly recommend you going to one, if ever you get the chance!

I spend the week leading up to New Year each year with the community of people who make up the summer camp I’ve been going to since I was 11. We stay in a Japanese boarding school in the Borders, near Loch Ken, and spend a few days preparing for Hogmanay – the younger children make decorations and anyone who can play an instrument is welcome to play in Le Hot Club de Kilquhanity, our ceilidh band. On the night, everyone dresses up; one year, I hired full Scottish traditional costume – I’m not sure how much a kilt and sporran suits me but it was a good laugh. Though we don’t have a caller per se (we have a couple of ceilidh dancing lessons in the run up to the night so that everyone has an approximate – operative word – idea of what they’re doing), the bloke who runs it will shout the steps while he makes up the backbone of the music with his accordion. We have a break in the middle of the evening for the talent show (children do such adorable things) and for a dinner of haggis (vegetarian option available), neeps and tatties (that’s swedes and potatoes to the rest of us), followed by Scottish ice cream. As the clock creeps up to midnight, everyone makes a circle and we sing, as is traditional, Auld Lang Syne.

Now, I didn’t know that Auld Lang Syne was traditionally sung at New Year before we started having a Hogmanay summer camp meet up. My old school finished the school year by everyone getting in a huge circle and singing it, with the traditional cross-armed hand shaking, and it is used by other organisations to mark a farewell or ending to something. But its poignancy is far more potent at New Year, especially in Scotland. The lyrics of the poem were written by Robert Burns, an 18th-century poet, beloved in Scotland where Burns Night (on or around the 25th January, Burns’ birthday) is still celebrated with a traditional supper of haggis, toasts, speeches and music. The melody is traditional (Roud #6294) and the distinctive folk feeling to the tune helps create the sense of community one feels when singing this piece. The words ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?’ remind me to remember the years past and the friendships made that need to be sustained as a new volume of my life is begun.

I am so very lucky to spend my New Year with people who are dear to me, with great cultural traditions, including some of the most rousing music known to man and the most heart-warming grub. Our friendships and experiences of the past years will be sustained and nurtured into a new year, a new chapter. Nevertheless, there is such value in saying, for one last time this year: ‘We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.’

Happy New Year everyone!

'Auld Lang Syne'negba

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