Friday, September 30 2022

As far back as people can remember here, islanders here celebrated New Years on January 12, but the pandemic has put an end to the old ways – for now, at least.

Donald MacLean, 59, remembers Oidhche Challuinn’s celebrations when he was young and said it was a big night out on the island. It will be again, once more, he said.

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Mr MacLean added: “It will be restarted for next year and the kids here will bring it back. They will be encouraged to do so.

Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, where the New Year is traditionally celebrated on January 12. PIC: Creative Commons / Jkirriemuir

On the night of January 12, children and youth dressed up to visit each of the island’s approximately 60 homes, with the group arriving at each home together.

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As has always been the case, the same Gaelic verse – or Duan – is recited on arrival to request even minimal offerings from the master of the house.

After receiving money or food, a second verse is said on leaving, to wish the master of the house good luck.

Berneray, which is in North Uist and has a population of around 130, is one of the last places in Scotland to observe the New Years.

When the old Julian calendar was phased out in the 18th century and 11 days were lost with the introduction of the new Gregorian calendar, some decided to observe the original times of celebration, with New Year’s Day being postponed to January 12.

In Berneray, the old customs have continued and the traditions surrounding the festival have changed little, although girls and young women now participate.

While Mr. MacLean, president of the Berneray Historical Society, remembers traveling for miles to reach each house, leaving his home around 4:30 p.m. and arriving at the last one around 10 p.m., cars are more commonly used to transport young people.

Children traditionally gathered in the last family home for a hot meal and a small party before returning home in the dark. In more modern times, the late night celebration takes place at the Borve Community Hall, where all the goodies are shared equally. The kids are known to have brought home around £ 60 each recently.

Mr MacLean said he remembered the girls who joined in the celebrations when older children started leaving Berneray for high school on Harris in the 1960s, leaving far fewer children on the road. ‘island on January 12.

Hogmanay is still celebrated on December 31 on Berneray, which is now connected to North Uist by the causeway.

Mr MacLean said: “The thing we don’t celebrate here is Halloween. Instead, children celebrate the New Year. We want to keep traditions alive. Until a few years ago we were an island and it was easier to do and keep things locally.

“More and more people have settled on the island and even though they don’t speak Gaelic they learn the verse very quickly and it’s great to see them taking it to houses. I think even families who have moved here love to continue to see the old traditions.

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