It is thought that the tradition of First Footing was a left over from the Vikings during their invasions of our island. They had a really strong influence over Shetland and they call New Year, Yules, from the Scandinavian word. Hence why this tradition is more associated with Scotland, Cumbria and my home county Northumberland.
It may not be widely known but Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century. The reason for this has its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk (church) portrayed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and exchange presents, especially for the children, which came to be called Hogmanay. Our New years eve party plate is ideal for this tradition.
There are traditions to carry out before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common). Especially the kitchen, if you have a clean tidy kitchen / house before midnight it will be like that all year round! Their is also the superstition to clear all your debts before “the bells” at midnight.
Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns’ “For Auld Lang Syne”. Burns claimed it was based on an earlier fragment and certainly the tune was in print over 80 years before he published his version in 1788.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality to wish everyone a Good New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note. When I was growing up it was imperative that you were in a home before midnight to see it in somewhere rather than on the road between somewhere, so often it was a pub in our village community or our family home or with friends when I was old enough to be out on this night!
“First footing” (that is, the “first foot or person” in the house after midnight) is to ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond/red haired strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal/wood, shortbread, salt, bread and whisky, which can be presented on one of my First Foot plates
When I was old enough to be out celebrating this occasion with friends, once midnight had struck and we had wished a good year to those we were with we would go up and down our valley to the out lying farms to visit friends there and the tallest darkest lad with us would be our first foot so we could be welcomed in to each home bearing the gifts we took with us. It was always a merry evening which often didn’t finish until Breakfast on New years day!
Then there is the Tar Barrel tradition which was carried out all over Scotland and Northumberland. My nearest was and still takes place at Allendale up in the hills of north Northumberland.
The traditional New Year’s Eve ceremony would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks. The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was also wrapped around sticks and ignited which produced a smoke that was believed to be very effective to ward off evil spirits. The smoking stick was also known as a Hogmanay. This still happens at Allendale with the men carrying lit tar barrels often on their heads whilst parading down the main street following a brass band playing Northumbrian tunes and everyone else follows until they get to the bottom and make a bonfire out of all the barrels to see New year in. Then First Footing commences!
Follow this link to order your First Foot plate, don’t delay you need to order by Wednesday 16th December to be on the safe side for me to paint it and have it fired and posted before Christmas!
Watch this video of the tar barrels at Allendale!…And see below the 7 steps to follow to bring the First Footing tradition to your home this year!
7 steps of how to do your First Footing
- Select your person to be the First Foot. Traditionally, the “luckiest” person to enter a house in the new year is a tall, dark-haired man. If you have a friend or family member fitting that description, ask them to participate. If they’re not considerably tall or their hair is medium-dark, that’s OK, too. However, it is considered unlucky to choose a red-headed person as a First Foot.
- Assemble gifts for the First Foot to bring into the house. These generally include small items that represent the wishes for the new year, i.e. a piece of coal for a warm hearth, bread and salt for all in the house to be fed adequately, a coin for financial prosperity, and a drink (commonly whisky) to represent good cheer. They fit wonderfully on my hand painted First Footing plate which also has the traditional wording on for them to say.
- Send your First Foot outside before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. This does mean your First Foot misses out on the first cheers and “Happy New Year’s!” wishes, you can find a loophole and have everyone else standing inside with the door open and your First Foot outside when midnight strikes. The First Foot may also be accompanied by others (a group could go outside), as long as he is the first to step over the threshold after midnight and someone is in the home to open the door.
You can of course do this each time you go visiting your friends houses after midnight!
4. Have your First Foot knock on the door after midnight. Three knocks are traditional, but they can knock however they please.
- Open the door for the First Foot.
- Have your First Foot step over the threshold saying”A Happy New Year and Good Tidings to you and yours”. The First Foot will then hand the gifts to the keeper(s) of the household and accept a drink (typically whisky but an alternative is fine if they don’t like it) from them to toast with them. All guests may have their glasses filled beforehand to join in the toast (traditionally “Slaínte!”). It is considered unlucky to either not offer the First Foot a drink or for them to decline it. If your First Foot does not drink alcohol, offer a different beverage instead. This is symbolic of accepting blessings and “inviting good luck to stay”. They can read out the wording on our First Foot plate as they hand over each gift to the house owner and leave the plate as a gift also!
7. Continue your celebration however you see fit.
Click on this link to order your personalised First foot plate
Please do get in touch if you have any questions about this item,