Song Sets the Stage – Auld Lang Syne

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot”… these are the opening lyrics to the famous song Auld Lang Syne – but what does it mean?

The verse, written by legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788, is traditionally sung at New Year’s gatherings in Scotland and around the world.

At the stroke of midnight, people come together to sing the tune as they bid farewell to the old year and welcome in the new. Here is everything you need to know about the song as you bring in the bells…

Auld Lang Syne literal meaning in English and what it’s all about

In Scots, Auld Lang Syne means “for the sake of old times” or “time gone by”. A more literal translation of auld lang syne would read as “old long since”. The song describes a pair of friends reminiscing and raising a drink for old time’s sake.

Why do we hold hands during Auld Lang Syne?

Millions of people around the world link hands when they bring in New Year and sing their hearts out to Auld Lang Syne.

Its origins as a Hogmanay tradition are said to come from freemasonry, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.

People would sing with their arms crossed and hands joined as a parting ritual at many Masonic lodges.

While the original is, of course, Scots verse, possibly the most recognisable version, and the ones most people sing, is the traditional English version

Success is Sweet for the Master of the Craft

Erin McDermott talks to Iain Burnett, a truffle specialist who, thanks to his popular produce, is now known as the Highland Chocolatier…

This month’s maker is master chocolatier Iain Burnett, a specialist whose truffle has received over 50 awards and has twice been awarded the Best Truffle in the World…

Based in Highland Perthshire, chatting to Iain about his chocolate flavours and creations, his infectious passion for his craft is instantly evident.

Originally from the Isle of Mull, Iain opened his famous chocolate shop in 2005. The positioning of the store was strategic in that some of the best UK dairies were just two valleys away, and most of Scotland’s Michelin star chefs were within a 50-mile radius.

His world-renowned Velvet Truffle took three years and 120 variations of recipe and techniques to master.

His client list extends to royalty, hoteliers, chefs, and visitors from all over the world.

Only a few weeks ago at the International Chocolate Awards, Iain admits the team took home 10 awards winning every category for ganache and truffles.

In December’s Hogmanay Highland Fling WeeBox, you will find a sample of Iain’s artisan gourmet flaked hot chocolate. As a master chocolatier, Iain loves the science behind the process of creating flavours. He said “A typical supermarket powder hot chocolate has pretty much had all the cocoa butter ripped out of it, and you’re basically left with the grit from the ground beans.

The difference between that and a real hot chocolate is the conching of the chocolate. Rough grinding leads to cocoa powder, but if you conch you’re basically using water-cooled rollers to really finely grind – almost like grinding a paste.

The flaked hot chocolate in the WeeBox is a combination of cocoa mass and cocoa butter so it has the creaminess to it, but it’s also been conched making it very smooth.”

When you feel like getting snug at home and curling up with your mug of Highland Chocolatier hot chocolate there’s a method you can use to evoke the full creamy flavour. Iain suggests: “The best thing to do with the hot chocolate is to put in the dark chocolate, then boil the milk, and if you can, mix it with a bladed mixer.

“When you blend it this way you break up the coco particles and they absorb more of the milk to give you a thicker hot chocolate. You can use it with plant-based milk also.”

Iain and his team never use any additives or preservatives within products, such as glucose or any of the sugars or fats that other chocolatiers tend to infuse. He says: “You just get a better flavour without it, and you taste more when you have good, simple ingredients.”

Iain’s Audio-Guided Chocolate Tasting Flight can be shipped to North America for those looking to experience a journey of flavours, textures and skills, and the official best dark truffle in the world.

Celebrate Roots of Scottish Revelery

New Year’s Eve is a major celebration for millions of people all over the world – but it is a particularly big deal in Scotland where it is called Hogmanay. So why is it so big here?

It is axiomatic that Scotland “does’ Hogmanay better than any other country.

After, all we invented Hogmanay and Ne’erday, didn’t we? And it’s our National Bard’s most famous lines that the world sings as soon as the bells ring out to welcome in the New Year. For the sake of auld lang syne, however, let’s examine some of the facts and myths behind Hogmanay, which Scots have been celebrating since time immemorial – or have we?

Researchers into the history of Hogmanay and Ne’erday soon come up against one salient fact that rather calls into question the whole clamjamfrie of nonsense that surrounds December 31 and January 1 in Scotland.

What we now call “hogmanay” is an ancient ritual, no doubt, but its association with January 1 in Scotland is just 423 years old. We know that for a fact because James VI and his Privy Council decreed in the year 1600 that Scotland would join “all other governed commonwealths and countries” making January 1 our New Year’s Day.

Prior to then, the official start of the year in Scotland was March 25, known as Marymass or Lady Day – as in the Roman Catholic calendar it is the Feast of the Annunciation, which makes the visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. James VI, who very much saw himself as a modernising king, changed the date of New Year to January 1 with a proclamation that is still extant.

The various fire ceremonies and torchlight processions around the country give the best clue as to how Scotland came to have Hogmanay – the Vikings brought such events with them, and as they settled around Scotland, so their winter solstice festivals became a feature of Scottish life.

The exact etymology of the word Hogmanay has long been disputed, but the night before Yule was called “Hoggo-nott” in Norse, and we certainly get at least one of our Hogmanay traditions from the Vikings – that of “first footing”. Opening your door to such a person was meant to bring you a year’s good luck.

At some stage in the first centuries of the second millennium, Hogmanay became the name of December 31. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the world hagnonayse was first recorded in 1443 as a description of the customs celebrated on that day.

The various traditions such as cleaning the house, first footing, bringing coal for the fire, shortbread for the feast and whisky for the toast, and “ringing in” the New Year all developed over tie, and when Robert Burns penned Auld Lang Syne, Hogmanay even had its own theme tune.

Many people across the world look to Scotland as the home of Hogmanay. The fact is, however, that Scotland did not invent Hogmanay: we just perfected it!

Christmas Cheer – Festive Cocktails

Now with the spotlight on seasonal serves right now, it’s time to crack out the Christmas cocktail list. From hot toddies with a joyful twist, to rims dipped in candy canes and a pa-rum-pum-pum pudding.

Copper Toddy


  • 40ml Copper Dog Speyside Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  • 20ml Earl Grey Syrup
  • 125ml Medium Cider
  • 1 Star Anise
  • Lemon Wedge


First, make the Earl Grey syrup by steeping an Earl Grey tea bag in a cup of boiling water for three minutes.

Mix equal parts caster sugar and boiling tea, and stir until all sugar is dissolved.

Let stand for five minutes and stir again before use.

Now, heat all ingredients in a small saucepan on a gentle heat and make sure not to boil.

Pour into a heat-proof glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Christmas Pudding Old Fashioned


  • 45ml Santa Teresa 1796 Solera Rum
  • 5ml Maple Syrup
  • 5ml Cherry Syrup
  • 2 dashes of Cacao Bitters


Add ingredients into a mixing glass and stir.

Serve over ice into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with an orange twist and cloves.

The Greatest Gift


  • 45ml Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky
  • 25ml Cotswolds Whisky Amaro Liqueur No 1
  • 45ml Cranberry Juice
  • 15ml Lemon Juice
  • 15ml Egg White
  • Bar Spoon of Honey


Dissolve the honey in Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky, add all the ingredients into a shaker and dry shake (without ice).

Add ice, shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass.

Keeping Up With the Spirit of Christmas – Scottish Christmas Culture

From trees to wreaths and garlands, one of Scotland’s castles is reconnecting Scots with the origins of our festive traditions

Transporting visitors through Christmas past, Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire has been decked out in authentic decorations from medieval to Victorian times.

Period estates and castles across the country could join the approach in the years to come as the National Trust of Scotland (NTS) trials guidance built on months of research by Dr Jo Riley. “It’s really important that visitors can connect and engage or even relate to what they’re seeing,” Dr Riley said. “It’s a much deeper experience.

Visitors to Castle Fraser will be able to explore the sometimes forgotten meanings behind the traditions, era by era. The medieval period will be centred around the Great Hall, moving into the Georgian period in the dining room, and progressing to the Victorian sitting room.

Speaking on the 16th-century Great Hall, Dr Riley said: “We’ve put the medieval kissing balls, and decorated the fireplace, which was always significant of the Yule Log.”

Each room also has a kissing ball, or holy boughs, showing how the tradition changed from bringing blessings to a modern-day kiss under the mistletoe.

Speaking on how the symbolism of still popular traditions became less recognised, Dr Riley said: “There was much more superstition and not just knowing the meaning but belief in them. Religion was so important that everybody did believe the superstitions and religious meanings behind things.”

A Winter Wonderland – Christmas Travel

Every festive season, the picturesque Highland town of Aviemore and its breathtaking mountain backdrop are magically transformed into a stunning Christmas haven for Scots

Decades of holiday memories confirm that Santa Claus’ home in Scotland is the town of Aviemore. The winter sports resort surrounded by Cairngorm National Park welcomes visiting families each year to the capital of Christmas in the Highlands.

The story of the mountain resort starts in 1961 with a chairlift. There has been a settlement at Aviemore since at least as far back as the 1600s and the stone circle in the town hints at a more ancient past. The arrival of the railway produced the first flutter of attention from Victorian holidaymakers. However, it wasn’t until the opening of The White Lady chairlift in December 1961 that the potential of Cairngorm for leisure was realised.

Skiers now had the first directly accessible piste close to Aviemore with reliable late-season snow. Enter department store magnate Lord Fraser of Allandale and brewer George McEwan Younger. The due envisaged Scotland’s answer to the Alpine resorts of Europe, designed to appeal to a new generation of holidaymakers.

They set out to create the first all-weather resort in the UK, leading to the construction of the Aviemore Centre in 1966. It quickly became a major Scottish tourist destination. There was a cinema, shops, restaurants, and a swimming pool – all surrounded by new chalets, hotels and lodges for the ultimate holiday experience in the Highlands. The kitsch Santa Claus Land and its go-kart track, set against the dramatic landscape, were a highlight for young visitors.

A new funicular railway in December 2001 signalled the beginning of a period of optimism which was enhanced by the creation of the Cairngorms National Park in August 2003.

The tradition of family holidays has endured – Aviemore is one of the best places in Scotland for a break with kids. Santa Weekends at Macdonald Aviemore Resort have brought festive traditions into a new era Part of the magic of the trip is when children have the chance to meet Santa in his woodland grotto, visiting the elves’ workshop before being introduced to real reindeer.

The Cairngorm reindeer herd, first introduced in 1952 by Swede Mikel Utsi, is the only free-ranging herd found in Britain, roaming the countryside around Aviemore. There are around 150 animals living on the nearby mountains or on the Glenlivet Estate. The centre that manages the herd partners with Aviemore Resort to introduce the reindeer to guests as part of their stay.

The festive entertainment continues with a live Christmas panto that’s produced each year within the resort. There’s a full Scottish breakfast each morning, Christmas film screenings, family discos and an opportunity to swim in the indoor lagoon pool with flumes and wave machine.

On Christmas Day itself, the resort offers a lunch menu that starts with dishes like ham hock terrine or spiced parsnip soup before continuing with roasted turkey crown, Scottish sirloin of beef in a red wine jus or monkfish fillet wrapped in pancetta. For dessert, Christmas pudding in brandy sauce or blackberry cranachan trifle with spiced oats, bramble fruit, Chantilly cream and almond praline.

Iain Miller, managing director at Macdonald Aviemore Resort, says: “We really are at the heart of everything here in the Cairngorms, and it’s a place where families have been coming to for generations. Traditions are easily forgotten about nowadays, but Aviemore has really stood the test of time as a place of celebration across Christmas and into the New Year.

Historic Horror – Danger in the Dark Days of Bogus Witch Hunts

Scotland is as one of the most progressive and rational places on earth, a beacon of liberalism. But there was a time when this country was the most barbaric, superstitious and blood-soaked part of Europe

Between the late 1500s and the end of the 1600s, Scotland was gripped by a collective madness that exhibited itself in butchery, cruelty and organised mass murder. The Scottish Witch Trials can be seen as a case of national psychosis. While witch trials took place across Europe, here they reached a level of savagery seen nowhere else. Across Europe, around 50,000 people were executed as witches. In the 1600s, Scotland had a population of just 800,000. Here, an estimated 4,000 people, mostly women, were tortured and executed by the Kirk and state for witchcraft.

The Fishwife of Edinburgh

The case of Agnes Finnie, an Edinburgh trader, is the archetypal Scottish witch trial. Finnie was a poor woman and a nasty piece of work. Over the years, at least half a dozen people she cursed fell ill. One lost the power of speech, one broke a leg, one was paralysed and one died. People began to refer to her as a witch. The authorities were informed. Finnie was taken to the tollbooth in 1642 and held as a witch. She was burned at the stake on Castle Hill.

Isobel Gowdie

It seems Isobel Gowdie really did believe she was a witch – though she was probably also an attention-seeker. She was arrested in 1662 and taken to the Kirk at Auldearn for interrogation. No torture was necessary as she openly told an elaborate story of witchcraft.

Gowdie confessed to dalliances with the Devil, turning horses into straw, meeting the Queen of Fairyland, stealing milk from cattle, and plotting to harm children using wax images. There’s no record of Gowdie’s execution but that’s not usual: 90 per cent of records are missing.

The Witches of Pollokshaws

Aristocrat Sir George Maxwell, a well-known witch-hunter, fell ill in 1676. A friend of his daughters, Janet Douglas, claimed Janet Mathie had made a wax image of Maxwell and stuck pins in it. The figurine was found and Mathie arrested.

Janet accused Mathie’s son, John Stewart, of the same crime. Again, the doll was found, and Stewart was arrested. His 13-year-old sister, Annabel, was also arrested. Under interrogation, she named names. Soon six people were in custody, including 80-year-old Margaret Jackson. Due to Annabel’s young age, the court only jailed her. The five others were burned at the stake.

Many now think it was Janet who planted the wax dolls in order to frame those she accused. Her motives remain unknown. Money, fame, attention? What we do know is that she eventually fell foul of the law herself for reasons that are unclear, and was whipped in Edinburgh then banished.

The Paisley Witches

Christian Shaw was the 11-year-old daughter of the Laird of Bargarran. In 1696 she fell ill. She deteriorated, apparently coughing up hair, feathers, sticks and bones. She accused a number of poor women in the neighbourhood of cursing her.

Once a highlander called at the Laird’s home seeking shelter and Christian accused him of witchcraft. In all six people were held. Soon defendants were admitting to consorting with the Devil. More names were named, more arrests made. By the time of the trial 27 people were accused. Charges included the murder of babies, drowning two men in a ferry accident, and killing a minister with fever.

Two accused died in jail before the trial could start. Seven were finally taken to court and all strangled and burned. Christian recovered and founded in the Bargarran sewing thread company.

The Last Witches

The last witch executed in Scotland was Janet Horne in 1727 in Dornoch. She was senile and her daughter had deformed feet and hands. Neighbours accused Horne of shoeing her daughter like a horse and riding on her to meet the Devil. Both mother and daughter were sentenced to death. The daughter escaped but Horne was stripped, smeared and tar, paraded through the town in a barrel and set alight.

Nine years after Horne’s death, the witchcraft laws were repealed as Scotland embraced the Age of Enlightenment.

Immerse yourself in spooky Scotland with our 

October ‘Scottish Hallowe’en’ WeeBox, 

on sale now until September 30th!

Terrifyingly Tasty – Tradition Preserved – Hallowe’en Cocktails

As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail – and if you really want to raise the spirits this Hallowe’en, a creepy cocktail always hits the spot. Cast a spell with a glass of something dangerously delicious…

Lucifer’s Margarita


  • 50ml blood orange gin
  • 20ml lime
  • 10ml honey
  • Dash of Tabasco (optional)
  • Chilli horns to garnish


  1. Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice
  2. Add the ingredients and shake for 10 seconds
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with sliced chilli horns.

Violets Kill


  • 40ml spiced rum
  • 15ml Crème de Violette
  • 25ml lime juice
  • 10ml sugar syrup
  • Egg white
  • Two raspberries to garnish


  1. Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and dry shake (no ice)
  2. Then shake again with ice
  3. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with two raspberries.

Hallowe’en Bobby Burns


  • 50ml Scotch
  • 25ml sweet vermouth
  • 5ml Benedictine
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud Bitters
  • Lemon peel twist to garnish


  1. Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice
  2. Add the ingredients, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe glass
  3. Garnish with a fresh lemon peel twist

Order your October ‘Scottish Hallowe’en’ WeeBox now

On sale until September 30th!

Fright Night Quiz – How Well Do You Know Hallowe’en?

Hallowe’en has been a top tradition since long before the history books began recording, but through the years many cultures have begun taking their place in Scotland’s celebrations

Guising. Neep lanterns. October 31st. Surely there is nothing else to know?

Ding! Incorrect. Good old-fashioned Scottish guising is being steadily Americanised into a “trick or treat” format where, rather than doing a wee turn – a song, a dance, a joke – to earn a reward, many youngsters merely rock up at your door, demand a sweetie then saunter off again.

And neeps?

Turnips have been almost ousted by pumpkins. There is some logic to this one: pumpkins are easier to carve – thanks to their soft, fleshy innards – without necessitating the blood, sweat and tears involved in making a turnip lantern.

Hollowing out a turnip (a neep or a tumshie), as those of us of a certain vintage can attest, is nigh on impossible without mangling multiple spoons and repeatedly stabbing yourself in the hand with a blunt butter knife.

Following many hours of laborious chiselling and graft, the contents of your mother’s good cutlery drawer have invariably ended up looking like spoon-bending Uri Geller has been on the rampage. But, finally, voila, your neep lantern is complete.

Surely the date of Hallowe’en can’t move?

You would think so, but not everyone celebrates on the 31st. The Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock has long had a tradition of marking Hallowe’en on the last Friday of October.

There are a few theories posited about the reason behind what has been dubbed “Killieween”, with the most plausible being it might originate from when many employers paid their staff on the last Friday of each month.

Whatever happened to tradition?

Like many things, Hallowe’en has gradually evolved. After all, when did you last do some nut-burning of kail-pulling at Hallowe’en?

There is a reference to both in the 1785 Robert Burns poem, Hallowe’en, which talks of the merry friendly country folk that convened “to burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks”.

Next you’re going to tell me pumpkins aren’t orange?

Will, that is something of a misnomer. They also come in shades of green, yellow, red, white and blue.

Recent years have seen people display teal-coloured painted pumpkins to help raise awareness of food allergies and let guisers know they can expect a healthy alternative to so many sweets, such as toys, games and trinkets.

When can we eat then?

Best avoid sausage rolls. A clause of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 is said to have forbidden the consumption of pork or pastries on Hallowe’en. The Act was reportedly repealed in the early 1950s… but do you want to risk it?

Order your October ‘Scottish Hallowe’en’

WeeBox now – on sale until September 30th!

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