New Year's Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Get up, goodwife, and shake your feathers, And dinna think that we are beggars; For we are bairns come out to play, Get up and gie’s our hogmanay"
The word Hogmanay has taken on various meanings at one time, and has meant a new year’s gift for children, usually of fruit, bread, or oatcakes. “First footing” (or the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is a still common tradition across Scotland. In general, to ensure good luck for the house the first foot should be a dark-haired male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of a silver coin, bread or black bun, salt, coal, and a wee dram of whisky to represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer respectively. However, historically, regional variations for the preferred first foot varied widely. in parts of Fife, for example, red-haired men with flat feet were preferred, while in parts of Victorian England, a first-footed ginger-haired man (or one whose eyebrows joined), was considered a bad omen!
First Foot and Friend
In Scottish and Northern English folklore, the "first-foot" (also known in Manx Gaelic as quaaltagh or qualtagh), is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year's Day and the bringer of good fortune for the coming year.
Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing).
It is said to be desirable for the first-foot to be a tall, dark-haired male; a female or fair-haired males are in some places regarded as unlucky.
The first-foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin (silver is considered good luck), bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whisky), which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer respectively.
For an amusing take on regional superstitions regarding first-footing, click the illustration below, December 1882 London News Illustration, "First Footing" for some Victorian era traditions. Apologies to red-heads, ministers, and those with flat feet.