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A’ Challainn – New Year

Fireworks at New Year - Callann

A’ Challainn = New Year’s 

Houses were decorated with holly (cuileann) to keep the fairies away; they were repelled by certain woods. A special cheese, the càise Callainn was eaten. Boys (na gillean Challainn) used to dress up in old clothes, stuffed with straw and visit round the houses. One person wore a hardened bull hide with horns and hooves still attached. He would jump around and shake the horns and hooves while the others would beat the hide with sticks, while singing New Year’s songs (na duain Challainn). These customs, which varied from place to place, were brought to Highland settlements in Canada and observed into the 20th century, and many of the songs have survived. 

Oidhche Challainn = New Year’s Eve

Latha Challainn = New Year’s Day

Duan Challainn:

While travelling through the village, the young men struck the hardened hide or the walls of the houses they passed by, which was meant to frighten off evil spirits. Sometimes they circled the houses deiseal (clockwise–the lucky way).

Callainn a bhuilg

Callainn a bhuilg

Buail am boicionn

Buail am boicionn

Callainn a bhuilg

Callainn a bhuilg

Sios e suas e

Buail am boicionn

Callainn a bhuilg

Callainn a bhuilg!

New Year’s of the sack

New Year’s of the sack

Strike the hide

Strike the hide

New Year’s of the sack

New Year’s of the sack

Down with it, up with it

Strike the sack

New Year’s of the sack

New Year’s of the sack

At the door of every house, the young men sing;

Thàinig sinne chun an dorais,

Feuch am feàirrde sinn an turas,

Dh’innis a mhnathan còir a bhaile,

Gur e màireach Latha Callainn.

We are come to the door

To see if we will be the better of our visit

To tell the generous women of the townland 

That tomorrow is Callann’s Day.

After entertainment, they collect food and they go round the fire deiseal (clockwise) and sing. They singed a portion of hide and all had to smell it for luck.

Gum beannaich Dia an t-àrdrach,

Eadar chlach, is chuaille, is chrann,

Eadar bhithe, bhliochd, is aodach,

Slàinte dhaon’ bhi daonnan ann.

May God bless the dwelling

Each stone, and beam, and stave

All food, milk and clothing

May the people be always healthy here.

If the young men were badly treated or not given food, they walked around the fire tuathail (counterclockwise) and damned the house by building a cairn of cursing. Everywhere the people go, the animals will remind them of the refusal of hospitality.

Mallachd Dhé is Challainn oirbh

‘S cronachd chlaimhain chiuchaich

Fionn, fithich agus fiolair

‘S cronachd sionnaich liùgaich.

(Carmina Gadelica, 156-7)

The curse of God and Callann on you

And the censure of the plaintive buzzard

Of hen-harrier, raven and eagle

And the censure of the sneaking fox.

When they got a collection of food, they went to one house where the young girls were waiting and prepared a feast; leftovers were taken to those in need.

A’ Challainn ann an Alba:

A’ Challainn agus Clann

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