First Foot Forward

New Year’s Eve always reminds me of my grandmother. When I was little, I used to spend the night with her.  My parents always went to a party that night. I don’t remember my brother being at Grandma’s. So I don’t know if the two events were related or not. Of course, maybe I just wrote him out of that memory. Can you do that?

My father would come first thing in the morning. He had to “first foot” the house. Where my grandmother grew up (Scotland), the first person in the house in the new year had to be a dark-haired man. (I think it was also OK to be formerly dark-haired, currently bald, because Grandpa did it before he died.) The man had to enter on his right foot and carry something to eat, something to drink, and something to keep you warm. Dad brought meat pies, Scotch, and either coal or wood. Scotch seems to be an odd choice as a survival drink, but who am I to say?

I honestly believe Grandma would have refused entry to anyone other than the “first footer”. I know my mother (her daughter-in-law) was afraid to find out.

The night before, Grandma would burn down all the candles in the house. (This was before the days of 70-hour candles.) She wanted to burn away all the bad luck of the previous year. Similarly, no calendar could survive the end of the year. She had to sweep all the bad luck out the door as well. Grandma was pretty happy with her life, so all this stuff might have helped. If nothing else, the house looked and smelled good on January 1st. We always sang Auld Lang Syne, but I think that was more tradition than lucky.

I was looking at some other traditions earlier today. The first footing and sweeping seem to be pretty common. It also seems that while you want to sweep on New Year’s Eve, you do not want to sweep on New Year’s Day because you will sweep away the luck that comes with the new year. Apparently every year starts out good; somehow the bad luck seeps in as time goes by. Or leaps out at you when you least expect it. You also do not want to wash dishes, laundry, or your hair in order to not wash any of the good luck down the drain.

Laundry seems to be especially bad. Some traditions equate it with washing a person away, meaning someone will die in the coming year. You really do not need that special shirt for your team to win the big game New Year’s Day. If it was that important, you should have washed it immediately after the previous loss.

So far, we’ve done a lot of work on New Year’s Eve and pretty much nothing on New Year’s Day. Sounds pretty typical. But don’t forget to eat: grapes – 12 of them, one for every month of the year (some sources say you need to stuff one in your mouth at each chime of the midnight clock – no word on what comes after that); pork – because pigs root forward when they eat while chickens scratch backward (and you may remember I told you that bacon was this year’s “in” gift); black eyed peas and lentils – they resemble coins; and greens such as collard greens, chard, cabbage and kale – the folds of the greens resemble money. Actually, if you put all of that together, call me. It sounds delicious.

The key seems to be that whatever you do on New Year’s Day will be an indication of what you will be doing the rest of the year. It is especially important that you bring in before you give out. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Don’t start the year owing anyone (that must have started in the years before mortgages and car payments). Spend time with friends and loved ones. Take care of yourself. I’m not sure what it means if you ate bad crab dip the night before and are in the bathroom all day.

Finally, some words of wisdom if you happen to be traveling next year. (I don’t know how you’ll find it next year when you need it.) :

  • In Spain, wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve means that you will have prosperity and good luck in the upcoming year. (Note to traditional men: no one will see it if you don’t let them.)
  • In order to chase out the bad luck of the New Year, the Irish bang white bread against the walls. (I’m not sure how old the bread needs to be before it will actually bang.)
  • In Ecuador, it’s customary for each family to burn a scarecrow at midnight. The scarecrow represents the negativity of the previous year, so burning it ensures positive energy and good luck as the new year begins. (Please remember to do this outside or you will not be invited back.)
  • Brazilians jump seven waves for good luck — one jump for each day of the week. (You may want to find a beach first. Or hope that your friends are really drunk.)
  • In Greece, smashing a pomegranate outside one’s door at midnight is said to bring good fortune. The red color and seeds of the pomegranate represent fertility, love, and happiness. (In college, a friend and I got pomegranate juice on my white curtains. Nothing would take out the stains. Just a warning.)
  • If you’re in Germany, touching ashes is the key to good luck in the new year. (Apparently Mary Poppins was on to something.)

I wish you all the best in the new year. Now I have to go see how the candles are doing.

2 thoughts on “First Foot Forward

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