Seeing in the new year

In an earlier time I was the folklorist-in-residence for CBC Sudbury, and every other week I’d get up early in the morning to do a telephone interview about folk beliefs and customs on some particular topic – weddings, black birds, Friday, the sea, Easter. Oh, the possibilities are endless.

With that in mind, I thought today I’d give you a little folkloric advice on having a good 2011.

Stay up until midnight. Whatever you’re doing at midnight, you’ll be doing a lot of through the year, which is the origin of the custom of staying awake to see the new year in. To be in bed means that you might spend a lot of the coming year tired or ill.

Kiss someone, preferably someone you love. This is a peace kiss, not a romantic one, and foretokens a peaceful year.

Turn your silver over. This is a custom transplanted from the new moon rituals. As midnight strikes, turn your silver over in your pocket to ensure that you’ll have more money in the new year. I’m talking silver here, not zinc or nickel or paper. I keep a 1954 silver shilling for precisely this purpose.

Noise is good – it frightens away evil spirits. Blow that whistle! Bang that drum!

The first guest should be a dark-haired man, who should arrive bearing a lump of coal and a bottle of liquor. Okay, probably a charcoal briquette is as close as most people will come nowadays. To have a red-haired woman as your first-footer (first visitor of the year) is very bad luck.

Wear something new on New Year’s Day or you’ll go in rags by the end of the year.

Do a token bit of work, to ensure that you will have work all through the year. Do not, however, wash clothes on New Year’s Day. To do this is to wash a member of the family away into death.

Don’t lend anything, or you’ll be lending all year. Money and fire – or the means to make it – are particularly important not to lend on New Year’s Day.

Nothing should go out of the house until something comes in. It doesn’t matter what comes in – a stone, a piece of firewood, any small thing will do – but something must come in before anything goes out. There is a custom of putting a loaf of bread, a silver coin and a piece of coal outside on a window ledge on New Year’s Eve and bringing them in on New Year’s Day.

If you want to throw out garbage, compost or ashes from the fire, do it before midnight, because nothing should be thrown or swept out of the house on the first day of the year.

Good things to eat are important; they set the tone for the year ahead. A new loaf of bread on New Year’s Day is a good omen for the new year.

Whatever you do tomorrow night to see the new year in, I wish you a happy one, peaceful and prosperous and creative.

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6 Responses to Seeing in the new year

  1. Pauline Clark says:

    Hey Elizabeth:
    That was great….Gerry and I enjoyed your information. I think there are a few things I’ll try to incorporate into my new year–just in case. Either way, I know I’ll be lucky enough to see you soon! Have a Happy New Year. Good things are ahead for all.

  2. widdershins says:

    What a great list…. and if they’re deconstructed far enough, they’re all just good sense

  3. This is great stuff, EC, a lot of it I haven’t heard before! I hope you don’t mind, I shared with some of my peeps.

    Happy New Year!

  4. No problem sharing, Autumn – spread the word! Widdershins, when you’re deconstructing, try not to hit your thumb with a metaphorical hammer. 😉 And Pauline, I’m *so* looking forward to the party tomorrow! Will you be bringing the novel-writing game?

  5. Aleisha says:

    I am totally screwed Aunt Elizabeth! I was in bed at midnight and I washed some clothes. Oh wait, maybe I’m not screwed, but I may have screwed someone else! Great list! Happy New Year!

  6. ecreith says:

    Happy New Year, Aleisha!

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