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Friday, December 29, 2017

First Footing

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”


The above words are likely familiar to most of us, as they have somehow become the official welcome to the new year, along with noisemakers, confetti and kissing when applicable.The words were first published in 1788 by the Scottish poet Rabbie Burns.

But I grew up (in the U.S.) with another tradition:  First Footing. Have you heard of it? What about Hogmanay?


The Scots' devotion to celebrating the new year with such intensity can be blamed on Presbyterianism. John Knox and his Reformation was adamant about revoking Catholic customs (the papists!) and this included the celebration of Christmas. In fact, it wasn't until the 1950s that Christmas became an actual 'day-off-from-work' holiday. To make up for it, they celebrated the New Year with exuberance (and superstition)!

You might see something strange about tossing one group of practices for another, but it wasn't easy to shake off the old ways!

The tradition of first-footing varied across Scotland, its isles and the north of England, but demands a visitor--preferably dark-haired male--arrive after midnight, bearing gifts. These were various tokens of good-fortune:   

a lump of coal, shortbread, a dram of whisky, 
coins, salt, black bun, and more. 

Preparation included taking out old things - like ash (Something I do daily this time of year--take out coal ash), sweeping the house, and even sending the head of the household out before the stroke of midnight.

The best scenario would be a dark-haired (and let's make him good-looking while we're at it!) visitor bearing gifts. Why dark hair? Those blond visitors known as Vikings brought nothing but bad luck in the seventh century!


Traditions change, and in some areas blond visitors are preferred, and the gifts are different.
Unfortunately, red-haired women were likely turned away!

When I was young, my grandfather would go outside, come back in and hand his wallet to his wife. Later on, we would just be glad if anyone came across the threshold. 

In Scotland, however, neighbors helped neighbors celebrate, and Hogmanay is bigger than ever!

I have no doubt that our colonial ancestors from Scotland kept this New Year's tradition of first-footing. But how often it is practiced now? I'm hoping to hear from those in the Carolinas, and east New Jersey where so many Scots settled, and find out who is still celebrating.

Have you heard of first-footers, and do you celebrate? 

So from me, and all of the authors at Colonial Quills, I offer this  blessing for your new year:

Go dtuga Dia deoch duit as an tobar nach dtrann
May God give you a drink from the well that never runs dry!

And some shortbread from my house to yours!



Visit Amazon to learn more about my Amateur Sleuth cozy set in Scotland,


8 comments:

  1. Happy Friday and the second of the 'bookend' holidays that bracket my quiet week off each year. While my days are full of writing and editing right now, it was fun to take a mini vacation and remember the fun of our Christmas and New Year's traditions. On New Year's Day we always ate roast pork. I've kept that tradition each year and I hope you have something special to mark the new date on the calendar as well!

    Have you welcomed a first footer at your house?

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  2. I'm very familiar with the tradition of Hogmanay and the first footing. I had it featured in my first story, but sadly it was lost in the edits. Being Scots-Irish, it's always been fun to research the traditions.
    Our main New Year's tradition is enjoying Hopping John, a traditional southern dish.

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    1. Once in awhile we've added black-eyed peas to our New Year's Day meal, but it always included roast pork, sauerkraut??, and birthday cake. My mother was a New Year's Baby. I'm told there was some link to pork and new year's... something about eating the part that went over the fence last. I have no idea where it came from but I do know a lot of people do choose pork for that day! Thanks for joining in to recall our ancestral roots!

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    2. Hopping John has pork in it just for that reason. ;)

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  3. The picture of shortbread made my mouth water. It looks just like my mother's shortbread. I can taste it.

    Love the blessing you gave us. Evidently taken from the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus at the well. May you have grace, peace and love in this new year.

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    1. Thanks Judith! Happy New Year! While I was growing up, the shortcake got pierced with a fork to make the pieces. I updated to the quicker method of 'pizza cutter'! But yes, it's a mouthwatering delight (and homemade is always preferable to the store bought. Sorry Walker's Company!)

      My children and grandchildren all get a bag of shortbread in their Christmas stockings. We only have it the one time of year, because it's SO RICH! and that makes it more special.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this bit of holiday history. We don't have any traditions, my husband always worked New Year's eve. Now that he's been disabled for a few years, we are usually sleeping!
    Your shortbread looks delicious! I've never had home-made before.
    I wish you all a Very Happy New Year!

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    1. I'm afraid I don't celebrate anything like this myself. Other than having pork on New Year's Day, I've even given up the tradition of renting an old black and white movie to watch. That was how my mom and I celebrated for many years! I like to sleep my way into the new year!

      Enjoy 2018, my friend!

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