Thursday, December 27, 2012
In areas that tend toward rougher weather, however, what happens on New Years may have more subtle indications.
A very old tradition not only in Europe but in the Far East as well is that making as much noise as possible at the exact turning point of a new year will bring good luck. The setting off of firecrackers, discharging of guns, ringing of bells and clanging of pots and pans was done just at the stroke of midnight to drive evil away and welcome in prosperity. In some European locals, particularly the far north of Scotland and many of the Scandinavian countries, the usually unwelcome thunder storm was a happy accident on New Year's Eve. The din caused by nature at that time was thought to bring particular good luck in the coming year.
In some parts of Britain, the idea that whatever one might be doing when the New Year's noise began - be it bells from the local church or just the family clanging away in the kitchen - would be the thing to take up most of one's time in the coming year. A superstition arose around this idea that if one had retired early and was in bed when the celebration commenced, they would spend the year ill - or worse. Thus it is quoted in A Dictionary of Superstitions edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem that "few people go to bed, for obvious reasons, and even the old and infirm prefer to sit up."
Opening up the house at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve was also highly recommended. Regardless of the weather, and in some places especially if it was inclement, all doors and windows should be flung open just at that time. This tradition was thought to "let the old year out and welcome the new year in" but may have had its origin in the idea that unlatching closed things allowed negative energy to escape.
Other non-weather traditions surrounding New Year's Day included clearing up debts so that the next year would bring no more... or at least fewer. Pepys mentions this in a diary entry. On the 30th of December, 1664 he writes of "looking over all my papers to ascertain what debts should be attended. After dinner, forth to several places to pay away money, to clear myself in all the world."
The idea of "first footing" is also a New Year tradition that survives to this day. Probably originating with a Celtic ritual, it is believed that a certain person - usually a "dark man" - should enter one's home with specific items in hand. The things in question vary depending on where the tradition is upheld, but usually a piece of coal, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine or ale or any combination of these is spoken of. Sometimes the man must travel through the whole house and then exit through the back door. Sometimes he need only enter, step in with his right foot first, and place his offerings near the hearth. Whatever the program, if it is followed, good luck will follow as well.
Much like the dead who should not be grumbled about until they are buried, the old year should be treated with respect. "Say not ill of the year, till it is past," wrote Thomas Fuller in 1732.
And as to the bird above, keep an eye out for him or his brothers the crows, on New Year's Day. According to L'Estrange writing in his version of Aesop circa 1692 "If you see two ravens or crows on New Year's Day, you'll have good luck after it, but if you should chance to spy one single, tis a bad omen, and some ill will betide you."
Here's wishing you a late night, noisy weather, a dark man with a cask of ale and two ravens this New Year.
Header: Raven by John Mankes via Old Paint