Tuesday, 4 January 2011
52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - New Year's Day
Whatever day of the year you want to feature, Hillman's hyper-linked and searchable Chambers' Book of Days is a wondeful source to dip into. In this case, it is full of detail about this day in the past, including notable (or obscure) events, traditions and customs. January 1st has so much going on that it occupies two whole pages. Some of this is to do with the fact that it is New Year's Day, but of course this was not always so. We are accustomed to using the Gregorian Calendar today, but this was adopted at different times in different places (1752 in England). Not only did the calendar shift by 11 days when the new system was adopted, the year was deemed to start on January 1st, instead of March 25th, Lady Day. The link I have given goes into the mathematics of it all, if you like that sort of thing. I don't; it makes my brain hurt.
Since my memories of New Year are all from the 20th century I can safely stick to the Gregorian calendar, thank goodness. I lived in Scotland until I was 7, where New Year used to be a much bigger event than Christmas. Even today Scotland has two bank holidays for New Year and one for Christmas, while England has two for Christmas and one for New Year. I have some early Christmas memories, but I think I can remember more of New Year. The last New Year I spent in Scotland was 50 years ago, so they may be a little hazy, but for what it's worth, here they are:
There seemed to be a great fuss about getting everything ready on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), cleaning, tidying but mainly making sure that there was enough to eat and, of course, to drink. I believe that shortbread was involved, and my mother's home made version is the best. There are crumbs on the keyboard as I type...There would be quite a bustle as it got close to midnight and 'the bells', to make sure that everyone had a drink ready, and the man selected to be 'first foot' was hustled out of the door with a piece of coal and a bottle of whisky. We all had our best clothes on - I seem to recall my dad dashing around at the last minute, looking for his best cufflinks. For the record, I was always awake for New Year, which was quite acceptable. My mother says I was awake at midnight on lots of other nights when I was a baby, which was less acceptable, apparently. On the stroke of midnight everyone would take a drink and wish each other Happy New Year. The poor shivering soul outside would be let in, we'd sing 'Auld Lang Syne' and it was party time! If you brought in the new year quietly in your own house, you might go round to the neighbours after midnight, have another drink there, and then all move on to another neighbour's house. I'm not sure exactly how this worked, and how much was pre-arranged, I just went along for the ride!
There are a few things I should explain here; although the parties went on until goodness knows when, no-one would touch a drop of (alcoholic) drink until midnight. This might well be the time you had your first ever drink, when someone would decide you were old enough to have a wee sip of whisky as a special treat - it may or may not have been New Year, but when I had my first sip of whisky I thought it was disgusting, and I still do. The 'first foot' tradition is an old superstition, and it was meant to bring good luck if the first person to enter your house came with gifts of coal and whisky to represent warm and plenty for the year to come. It was meant to be a dark-haired man, because women and red-heads were supposed to be unlucky. Just as well I'm not superstitious, because I fail on both counts, and as I've already mentioned, I can't stand whisky. Finally, there's 'Auld Lang Syne'; that's Auld Lang Syne with an 'S', not a 'Z', so why do English people always sing 'Zyne'? If you're from Zummerzet where the zyder comes from maybe, but there's no excuse for the rest of you. But what annoys my mother more than anything is the joining hands thing, where you cross your arms and join hands with the folks either side of you. I have no problem with this, but you can rely on her to point out the error of your ways if you do this before the line 'And there's a hand my trusty fiere, And gie's a hand o thine'.
So now you know, and you can do the right thing from next new year. But unless you are in the presence of my mother (unlikely), I doubt that anyone will care, so feel free to do your own thing.
One nice family detail is that New Year's Day (Ne'erday) was my grandfather's birthday, another good reason to celebrate.
Happy New Year, and lang may yer lum reek!