Hogmanay – or New Year’s Eve as sassenachs (the English…) call it – is the most personal of the annual ‘holidays’ to me.
My late father was Scottish – a Highlander indeed – and when he was growing up Scotland they didn’t celebrate Christmas up there, a throwback all the way to the Reformation of the church.
In 1640 celebrating Christmas was actually made illegal by the Scottish parliament, so it was a pretty deep-seated thing. It didn’t become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958!
So while my English mum made sure we always had a lovely, elegant Christmas at home in Cambridge, I always looked forward to Hogmanay more, because we’d drive up and celebrate it at a big party with my dad’s large extended family, at my grandparents’ house in the far north west of Scotland. I adored it.
The smells of Hogmanay for me are of the damp mossy and peaty smell in the air outside – and in the whisky on my father’s breath. He liked the single malts from the island of Islay, which are particularly peaty.
And while it wasn’t in flower in deepest winter, there was always the single note of heather in my granny’s old-fashioned Scottish perfume. Heather doesn’t seem to be used in perfume these days, so if you haven’t smelled it, it’s a bit like lilac.
I also remember the slightly sickly lanolin smell of the itchy lambs wool Fair Isle jumpers I would be forced to wear and the warm dusty scent of woven wool kilts.
Then there’s the classic culinary spices in the Black Bun, a traditional rich fruit cake, covered in pastry, that was brought into the house by a dark-haired man (my dad, or any of his three brothers) along with a piece of coal, after midnight, which is called ‘first footing’ – and if anyone other than a dark-haired man was the first person to walk through your door in the New Year, it was considered bad luck.
I’ve got my son Lucas to play that role now. He’s as raven-haired as my father and uncles were and also has their light blue eyes.
Another vivid Hogmanay smell is beeswax furniture polish, as the entire house had to be ‘spring’ cleaned ready. It was all about new beginnings and very bad luck to start the new year with a dirty house.
But while I loved the warmth (emotional, if not always physical!) of my grandparents’ rambling old house and the fun of the Hogmonay hoolie (knees up), it’s the scents in the air on the bracing walks we would take in the short afternoons before the early northern dusk descended, which stay with me the most.
Scotch pine trees, heather. wood smoke, old leaves, damp dead bracken, frost and that earthy peat.
My Hogmonay scents are:
Aqua Alba by Angela Flowers
Bois des Iles by Chanel
Encre Noir by Lalique
Holy Thistle and Celtic Fire, both by Union Fragrance
Mountain Silver Water by Creed
Big Bad Cedar by Atkinson