WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ New Year’s

New Year’s observances in England during the Regency era were very much a family and close friends affair. The whole yuletide season itself was a time for reuniting with family and gathering in tight-knit social settings. There were several regional practices, such as Hogmanay in Scotland and Northern England, and the making and drinking of Lamb’s-wool in Ireland, but most holiday celebrations were intimate and dictated only by familial rather than societal customs. One thing was universally desired during this era, and continues to this day: good fortune and blessings in the New Year, and superstitions were everywhere.

A merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Your pockets full of money and your cellar full of beer.

Weather could be a source of New Year’s predictions.

If the morning be red and dusky
It denotes a year of robberies and strife.
If the grass grows in Janivear
It grows the worse for ‘t all the year.
If New Year’s Eve night wind blow South,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If West, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If North, much cold and storm there will be;
If East, the trees will bear much fruit;
If Northeast, flee it man and brute.

Maids often stayed up past midnight to catch the first pitcher of New Year’s water, obtaining the “Cream of the Year,” which was rumored to be special and lucky. Indoor plumbing did away with this, but the practice of staying up to usher out the old and welcome the New Year remains.

If the first person to enter the house was female, bad luck was sure to follow. A tall, handsome male would obviously be the best omen, more so if he had a high instep so that “water would run under,” meaning bad luck would pass by the household. Most women were flat-footed from being continually on their feet; hopefully this anatomical detail explained the reason for the difference in luck between the sexes. This old wives’ tale was known as “First Footing.”

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One cannot mention the Regency era and New Year’s without speaking of Auld Lang Syne. Written by Scottish poet Robert “Rabbie” Burns in 1788, the title literally translates as “old long since” and idiomatically as “long long ago.” Burns took inspiration from Scottish traditional folk songs and fairy tales that used the phrase auld lang syne to mean “once upon a time” and collated previous works with his original lyrics into a single song, publishing it in 1796. This “for auld lang syne” would be taken colloquially as “for the sake of old times.”

Burns submitted his work to The Scots Musical Museum publication, accompanied by this note:

The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.

The song has ever-since been the closing anthem of Hogmanay celebrations, with those in attendance forming a circle and joining hands as they sing. Before the final verse, everyone crosses their arms to clasp the opposite hand of their neighbor. At the song’s conclusion, the group rushes to the center of the circle, hands still joined, then turns under their own arms to reform the circle, hands still joined, but facing outward, to welcome the New Year.

My grandfather used to sing it each New Year, in the original Scots.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

 

When I married, I discovered my new family practiced two unique holiday customs: they race to see who can say “Christmas Eve Gift” to each other on Christmas Eve, and they call each other at 12:01am on New Year’s Day. Are there any special New Year’s traditions in your family?

 

New Year’s customs and observations taken from Yule-Tide in Many Lands by Mary P. Pringle and Clara A. Urann (a Project Gutenberg ebook).

First Footing information was discovered at Maria Grace’s Random Bits of Fascination.

Interesting tidbits about the tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne can be found at A Regency Primer on Christmastide and New Year’s by Kristin Koster and The Scots Musical Museum in Six Volumes.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Hogmanay awaits at Rampant Scotland.

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