Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Evezzzzzz...

Well, I made it through Christmas and, a couple of interminable car journeys aside, very enjoyable it was too. Now it's New Year's Eve. In years gone by, this would have been an excuse for staying up extremely late, drinking way more than is good for me, and an opportunity to kiss and embrace complete strangers. Now, with all these kids and all these car journeys, it will be an achievement for me and my wife to still be awake at midnight, though we plan on being. Last year, with a new born, I fell asleep in the armchair and woke to find the New Year had already begun. Come to think of it, it pretty much summed up the year that followed - me asleep in a chair. I hope to find a bit more energy this year.

Other than the carousing, there are a few other aspects New Year's past that I miss. First footing, for example, which I mentioned in a response to Yrsa's blog last year, which involved me leaving whichever party I was at just after midnight to be the first person to cross the threshold of my Grandmother's house in the New Year, which she believed brought her luck (and brought me a crisp five pound note for my troubles.) The practice traditionally involved opening the back door to let out the old year, then the front to let in the new, accompanied by a tall, dark male. In the mining village where my other grandparents lived, groups of men left the pubs at midnight, well refreshed, and went door-to-door, a lump of coal in their hand, first footing for everyone who wanted, in return for a nip of scotch. As you can imagine, those at the far end of the street welcomed some fairly tired and emotional travellers after umpteen whiskeys, on top of a bellyful of beer. I remember being there as a young child, allowed to stay up, amazed by the festivity and bonhomie that erupted for the hours that followed midnight. Lots of food and laughter and optimistic talk of the year ahead. Unfortunately in London, if you turned up at a strangers house worse for wear with a lump of coal, you're more likely to get a blast of mace in the face than a glass of whisky.

My grandmother was a stickler about what constituted a good first-footer. You needed to be male - females were historically regarded with dread. You had to be dark; apparently those with a light complexion were not welcome as a hangover from the Viking invasions. Tall was good, though optional. Fair was the final qualification, as in handsome, but again exceptions were (and had to be) made. Other than coal (for warmth), first footers carried salt (for wealth), a cake or some shortbread (for food) and something to drink, usually whisky.

All my grandparents are long dead, and while the mining village is still there, it exists mainly as a ghost town, the mine having long since been shut, decimating the whole area. It is hard to imagine the festivity and joy of my youth still goes on - the last time I was there the only pub had been turned into an 'activity centre,' teaching people about good diet, holding aerobics classes, with a cafe selling fruit smoothies and energy shakes - but I hope so.

All the best to you all for 2011.


Dan - Friday


  1. It appears Greece and the U.K. have more in common than the Marbles. Ouch.

    New Years Day in Greece is also St. Basil's Day, when children traditionally received their gifts. It is also the day of "the first footers" (podariko) when the first step into the house or business determines the luck for the year. Right foot good luck, left foot bad luck.

    The surest way to ensure good luck is for the first stepper to be a young boy bringing a "dog onion" (skylokremmyda) wrapped in aluminum foil. It surely is good luck for the boy for he's greeted with gifts of money--unless of course he happens to be in the way of someone breaking a pomegranate in the doorway for more New Years good luck.

    Here's wishing you a right-footed day rich in dog onions and smashed pomegranates.


  2. Dan, I love this post. I laughed as I read it. We had two babies born in November, on the 15th and one on the 29th. Neither were doing much sleeping at New Year's. The one born on the 29th didn't sleep through the night until she started high school and then she couldn't be pulled out of bed. Until she was about 10, she would come into our room, stand over me, usually in the small hours of the morning, to check if everyone was where they were supposed to be. I was the only one who woke; her father, brother and sister slept through bedcheck.

    "First Foot" is hilarious. Last year, I made my son come home, although early in the evening last year. He humored me. He is tall. Although he is fair-skinned, his hair is black. His eyes are blue so that is likely a left-over from the Vikings in Ireland, he does have the Irish Celt coloring so that should count for something. He used to be handsome. He grew a beard and now he looks more like the Unabomber. I don't know what is under all that mess. Not that he hasn't got plans with friends anyway, but I don't want him driving. He has to work Saturday morning so his New Year's Eve will be calm one tonight.

    My husband and I won't be home early in the evening. My sister has her granddaughters tonight so we are going for dinner at 3:00 and we will be ringing in the New Year about 6:00 pm. My sister, her daughter and her three girls, and her son and his wife are leaving for Disney World on a 7:00 am flight. In that they have to be at the airport an hour early, the girls are going to be in bed very early.

    Jeff, that really was low. If Lord Elgin got a tax write-off for his donation to the British Museum, Greece is never getting the Marbles back unless Elgin's descendants are willing to return the equivalent sum to the British treasury.

    A broken pomegranate for luck? For how many people does their luck run out when the slip on the pulp and crack their heads on the step.

    To both of you, a very Happy New Year and Dan, may your little one discover the joys of sleeping faster than my daughter did.


  3. We did all right last night Beth - all was quiet. Which is probably why I couldn't sleep. It felt like there was something wrong!

    Jeff, I'm intrigued by what a dog-onion is. Hope it tastes better than it sounds. I'm intrigued that the concept of first footing is widespread. I always thought it was rooted in the Celtic tradition, but it seems other cultures either adopted or originated it.

    We'll save the subject of the Marbles for another post, another time, though my views on the subject are pretty neutral, like most of my countrymen to be honest. It's only the right-wing press that froth at the mouth at the prospect of their return.

  4. First footing sounds lovely Dan. Too bad that lump of coal custom has gone the route of the mining village - a ghost town. Love the analogy of London mace in the face.
    We're celebrating 'oshogatsu' Japanese new year today, the traditional fare is root vegetables, tiny marinated fish and lots more served in lacquer wood boxes. Of course, the house is sparkling clean to welcome the new year and all the cooking has been done. The Japanese believe what you do in the first three days of the New Year presages what you'll do the next 362 - so it's going to the Temple, eating, watching TV and eating.
    Happy new year 'akemashita umedeto'

  5. Dan, I remember well the first time the babies slept through the night. I was up all night, checking that they were breathing.

    People who don't have children have no ideas of the fears they create, irrational or not.