In Scotland, there are many unique customs associated with the New Year. These form the Scottish celebration Hogmanay—the Scots name for New Year’s Eve. The street party in Princes Street in Edinburgh is one famous example.
There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests.
This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall, dark men are preferred as the first-foot.
In Scottish folklore, the first-foot is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day and a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.
Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing).
It is said to be desirable for the first-foot to be a tall, dark-haired male. A female or fair-haired male are in some places regarded as unlucky.
The first-foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin (silver is considered good luck), bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whiskey), which represent financial prosperity, food, flavor, warmth, and good cheer respectively.