New Year’s Eve is celebrated in many different ways around the world, with different countries having their own unique traditions and customs. The tradition of kissing at midnight is thought to date back to two ancient winter festivals: Saturnalia in ancient Rome and Hogmanay, a Viking tradition still celebrated on New Year’s in Scotland.
“Saturnalia was the most popular holiday on the ancient Roman calendar, where there was a ritual of offering gifts or sacrifices to the gods during the winter sowing season, in particular honouring the agricultural god Saturn,” says Isobel. “It’s also the holiday where many of our traditions for Christmas come from, such as wreaths, candles, feasting and gift-giving. Hogmanay is a viking tradition that is still celebrated on New Year’s in Scotland, but it became such a big deal due to Scotland not celebrating Christmas until recently. Christmas Day didn’t even technically become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958. Boxing Day didn’t become a holiday until 1974, either. So whilst the rest of the world celebrated Christmas, the Scots waited and got together at Hogmanay instead. There are a number of traditions that the Scots follow, but the most memorable one is the first-footing, where the first person to enter the house after midnight – ideally a tall, dark man – brings gifts such as food or coal. ”
In Hogmanay, kissing is not limited to your partner or romantic interest. “A Hogmanay party wouldn’t be complete without warm hospitality and a lot of kissing of friends and strangers,” says Isobel. “This wouldn’t be in a romantic sense, but more as a way to celebrate the occasion with a loved one and to get the year off on a happy note. The idea is to give a kiss to everyone in the room, so not just the one person people kiss nowadays, this was to help connect friends and strangers.”
According to English and German folklore, the first person you see – and what you do when you see them – as the clock strikes midnight sets the tone for the rest of your year. “In German and English folklore,” says Isobel, “the first person you encounter and the nature of this encounter determines whether you have good or bad luck for the year ahead – a similar idea to the Scottish tradition of the first footing. For a single person, not kissing someone could lead to a year of loneliness. For a couple not to kiss though, legend says it doesn’t bode well for their relationship. It should be noted that whether you believe the superstitions or not, kissing someone is not the only way to have a perfect year.”