I have decided to try the old ways. By the old ways, I've decided to incorporate some of the old traditional Scottish New Year's traditions into our family's New Year's Traditions. I have to admit that I am a little excited at the thought. It may sound a little corny, but it almost feels like welcoming back my Nana. I suspect that she will be up in heaven saying "It took you long enough." For Nana, Hogmanay was an important holiday.
My cousin Patricia Hutchinson has been a HUGE help in rediscovering my roots. Patricia and her family live in Scotland. She was kind enough to send me information, as well as her own personal recollections about Hogmanay. Here is the information that Patricia has shared with me....
The first foot of the New Year (the first person to step into the house and sometimes called the "the first Fit") should traditionally be a tall black haired man. This stems back to the 4th- 12th century when unwelcome visitors to this shore were Vikings who were short and fair haired. It is considered luckier to have the opposite type of person to visit. He or she should be honest, healthy and good tempered and liked by all. They must not be carrying a sharp object like a knife. It is not unusual for a household to choose a first footer and make arrangements prior to Hogmanay.
Unlucky First Footers;
Woman and red haired people are considered unlucky first footers, as is a person who first foots empty handed with no gift. Such a person will bring bad luck by asking the person to throw salt on an open fire if they have one or placing a piece of burning straw up the chimney. Roman Catholics will cross themselves if an unlucky first footer arrives at their house. Others will make a cross from Rowan twigs and place this at their front door. If an unlucky first footer arrives they touch this twig cross three times saying the name of their God each time before the first footer speaks. This might sound daft in modern times, but Scots have always been superstitious and do not want to suffer 12 months bad luck until the next first footer arrives.
Unlucky First Footers;
Other unlucky first footers include doctors, a minister, theives, a grave digger, someone born with a handicap, a flat footed person and someone whose eyebrows meet in the middle. This may seem politically incorrect but these hark back to the days before PC and are written here for historic interest.
Going Out First Footing;
Those going out first footing should carry a bottle to offer a drink, a lump of coal to signify that the house will keep warm, bring comfort and be safe for the year, black bun, or more modernly shortbread to signify that the household won't go hungry for the year and a silver coin to bring prosperity to the household for the new year.
Friends, family, neighbours and even strangers are welcomed in with a handshake and the words "A Happy New Year", or "A guid year tae ye" (a good year to you) and then offered a dram and a bite to eat. The New Year is toasted with many a glass of whisky.
In some Scottish communities the Hogmanay tradition of taking a turn still exists at parties. A turn can be reciting a poem, singing a song, telling a joke or story telling.
I can imagine how exciting that would be to go home to home. It would be like one big street party. I live in a small rural town, and can imagine doing this. It would have been wonderful! It makes me long for simpler times and wish that I could have seen it. Patricia says that it's not really like that in Scotland anymore. I guess like everything else time has moved on and is trying to forget the past. Generally people think to continue old customs is to regress to stunt their growth, and yet to me it feels like there is so much to be gained by keeping the old ways, if the old ways do not inhibit the future, but add to the future's richness.
Patricia shared with me stories of her memories of Hogmanay. Patricia was mostly raised in Ireland (I'm not sure if Uncle Freddy was Irish, I'll have to ask her. I do know that Aunt Sadie was Scottish. I know this because she was my Nana's baby sister.) Her recollections seem beautiful. I can picture my Nana and Papa out going house to house, huge smiles on their faces. In my mind, perhaps not in reality, Nana and Papa are holding hands, full of joy. Nana would have to be at the back of the group because of her beautiful copper hair. I am a little envious of Patricia's memories. Here is what Patricia shared with me.
"On a more personal level, I remember the first Hogmanay I spent in Scotland so well. I had been out somewhere and a group of us were heading home. Everybody we met wished us a happy new year and gave us a hug, and we met a piper in the park and we all danced round him. There were loads of folk about and every house we passed seemed to be having a party. It was the custom just to go to any door and be invited in with your bottle, even if you didn't know the folk. I didn't go in as I was worried about being late. My get-home time was 11 oclock and it was way past that. Then I got home and my parents were dancing about the living room with a drink in their hands and half the street squashed into the house. New Year was the only time I ever saw my parents with a drink. Then about 2am a couple of my friends arrived and my parents allowed me to go out with them 'first footing'. I was astonished.
In later years what would happen, and this is probably much like the young Hamiltons would have done, was you would always have a table laden with snacks such as sausage rolls, fruit cake, sandwiches and bottles of whisky or beer etc. Neighbours would come in and it would all be very jolly. We would probably watch one of 'Scottishy' shows on the television, or my mother, or later my brother, would play the piano, there would somebody there with a guitar and we'd sing all night. At the 'bells' or a recording of the cannon at Edinburgh castle being fired to signify midnight, there would be much hugging and happy wishes, my father who was tall and dark would be sent out to return with something like cake or a bottle (its years since any of us had a coal fire so a chunk of coal was hard to come by). Often if there was a lot of coming and going of visitors my mother would make sure the first caller after midnight was tall and dark, she would fling open the windows to let the new year in.
As a child I remember in Ireland that my mum was the only person I knew to celebrate new year in this mad way, and it intrigued me to say the least. I remember Aunt Margaret who lived in Ireland when I was a small child would come over to see us."
I hope you don't mind me quoting you directly Patricia, it was just so beautiful, that I felt like to put it into my own words would be a disservice to it's beauty.
I am inspired by Hogmanay. I will let you know tomorrow if it was a success or a failure. Wish me good luck!