WELL that’s Christmas done and dusted for another year — but what about Hogmanay? Depending on your age, you may be planning a city centre gig or a night in front of the telly letting Jackie Bird or STV steer you through the wee small hours. Well, this is a fervent plea to do neither — for your well-being, your (probably) unmet need for neighbourliness, engagement and connection and for the continuing health of Scottish culture.

Why not make 2018 the year you reconnect with that most ancient aspect of mid-winter behaviour — first-footing. It’s informal, it’s intimate, it’s self-starting and these days, that means it’s also pleasingly counter-cultural. Every occasion in our modern lives is commercial, organised by others and located somewhere far from home. Hogmanay is now no different. It’s become a city-centre, crowd-based and rather expensive thing. And that’s a shame.

I’ve always wondered at the stamina of revellers with the energy to stand in freezing conditions for hours on end, paying through the teeth for whatever drink/hot dog or hamburger comes their way. Assuming my age/permanent state of sobriety/slightly serious and city-phobic outlook was to blame, I said nowt as legions of step-daughters and neighbours’ kids prepared themselves for this annual ritual/ordeal/celebration over the years.

But recently, I’ve heard more and more youngsters with the same jaundiced view — though of course the forbidden nature of age-limited gigs continues to be a magnetic attraction for the teenagers.

We all need connection. We all need validation in our own culture. We all need stories only we totally understand, about people and places only we know well. And you don’t get that at most commercially organised gigs.

Culture and connection start at home. Likewise empowerment. It starts in your own culture or it doesn’t start at all. So that’s my grouse with the city centre Hogmanay gigs. Too much watching, too much spectating, not nearly enough participation and therefore way too much drinking in a culture where most folk need to get hammered to lose their inhibitions and still struggle to take their own voices, accents and cultural preferences seriously.

Of course the performers filling stages in every city centre this New Year are fabulous — indeed, I cheerfully pay to sit, dance and watch them at any other time of the year — just not Hogmanay. New Year in Scotland is for re-building your stores of intimacy and personal connection — a bit like summer recharges your stores of Vitamin D. Instead we’re spending too much time not for standing at the back of crowds gawping at the talent of ithers.

And that’s where first-footing comes in.

For the uninitiated (and sadly that’s almost everyone under the age of 40) first-footing is the gentle art of politely gate-crashing your nearest neighbour’s flat or hoose wielding (traditionally) a bit of black bun or a lump of coal and the vital ingredient — not booze — but a story, song or poem. Because any decent Hogmanay bash can easily morph into a ceilidh that will delight, entertain and create heartfelt, tender connections between neighbours normally stuck on distant nodding terms.

And for those who feel stressed at the prospect of being “made” to perform — person up. The whole beauty of a modern Hogmanay gathering is the sheer variety of cultures and generations brought together in one room. Your unique contribution to the whole is all that’s required — not a pitch perfect performance.

And it can be absolutely anything — a story about missing a ferry, the first verse of Wonderwall, a Burns poem, My Way, a gaelic song, Michael Marra’s Hermless, an electric guitar solo, an imitation of an owl in a cave… the list is literally endless because so are the most treasured experiences that light up our real lives.

Really, all that’s needed is an invitation to neighbours, an outside light left on just before the bells and a brave soul to switch off the TV.

A few years ago, at a Hogmanay do near Lochmaddy on North Uist, that brave soul was me. Invited to the Nicolson family gathering for Hogmanay, it was clear the room was full of larger-then-life personalities and musical talent. But everyone had settled down to watch the TV and the die was almost cast. So I leaned over, pulled out the plug and asked the woman in the corner the Nicholson’s mum if she had any songs. It turned out that Morag was a fabulous Gaelic singer (and a MOD winner in her younger days) who let rip with only a tiny bit more coaxing. My partner stunned the evangelicals present by singing “When I went down to the river to pray” — a song from his favourite film, the George Clooney hit, O Brother Where Art Thou?

I sang the Mountains of Mourne and then a human jukebox Margaret Saxton appeared with her husband Bill. We all found ourselves accompanying her to songs we didn’t know we knew — from Campbeltown Loch to Ca’ the Yowes. Then an Australian visitor took the guitar and sang a self-penned song so beautifully, we all felt a bit amateurish. Till Margaret remembered the Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen and we were off again. Looking slightly daunted, the teenagers retreated — but returned with electric guitar, amp, speakers and a keyboard to deliver a medley of Oasis hits.

This is my idea of Hogmanay. Although some very good friends have been pulling rabbits out of hats to make the big Edinburgh event work for many years, I’m after those marvellous, intimate moments of spontaneous generosity when strangers let their guard down and — for a few nights or moments — we all realise life is an extraordinary thing where anything can happen and we can all be extraordinary players. Surely as we build momentum for the inevitable second stab at independence, Scots have never had greater need of the authenticity, intimacy and reassurance a good Hogmanay can bring?

First footing, household ceilidhs, bothy ballads are bits of Scotland’s collective culture which worked in the days before sound systems because they were small-scale. Musical folk developed more than musical skills — without a stage or a large audience they learned to tell stories between songs and retuning instruments. As a result, the craic is the most distinctive aspect of Celtic performance and musicianship.

Yet the contemporary emphasis on commercial events with huge scale and awe-inspiring electronic delivery has almost swept Scotland’s precious acoustic heritage away. Almost — but not quite.

Since, IM Jolly and commercial entertainment kiboshed the humble first-foot, Burns nights are the most impressive remaining example of the Scots enduring capacity to organise thousands of small events which together create one big living cultural tradition.

Ironically though, it’s the big, posh, city-centre, celebrity-studded “black tie” suppers (where haggis is relegated to the starter and the Bard would unquestionably be barred) which tend to grab attention.

This is daft. Our public world is too often a distancing, anonymising and faceless bureaucracy when what people need most in a world of automation, social media and computer-time is exactly the opposite. We need engagement, comfort and connection — and that happens best in folk’s homes and small local venues.

So come on — give it a go. Whether you are at home or travelling; with friends or neighbours. As vinyl makes a comeback, the time for reassessing human formats has also arrived, and Scotland is perfectly placed to be the land that first rediscovers the power of cultural intimacy. So to all loyal National readers, reach out this Hogmanay and have a really Guid New Year.