Happy New Year. Yay?
I remember last year, how naïve we all were, thinking 2020 would usher out the bad mojo that was 2019. How optimistic we all were that 2020 held promise and hope for a better tomorrow.
Despite ten full months of precautions and care, a small gathering of family on January 1st brought with it an exposure to COVID19 for my little tribe. As we sit in our ten days of quarantine I still call us blessed for those healthy ten months, and so far we feel fine; there is a lesson to be learned in letting your guard down for even one small, innocent day of familial fellowship.
So it is with a jaundiced eye that I sit watching 2021 with my one can of Lysol drawn and ready.
A gamester’s last stake.
Is there any way to change our luck for this year? I mean, other than actually, once and for all, washing our filthy hands, staying away from others when we’re sick, checking to see if we’re symptomatic before going out in public (when we must go out in public), and slapping a mask over our pie holes?
As always, for me, let’s consult history; specifically, Regency England.
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, a no-no for our COVID-laden times.
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. We can easily adapt them to fit our current health rules, as two thing were universal during this era, and continue 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 also 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.”
I don’t think it can hurt to start the year with an old Irish blessing:
May your troubles be less,
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness come through your door.
- 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.
- Everything you ever wanted to know about Hogmanay awaits at Rampant Scotland.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.