The most widespread national custom is that of first-footing, which starts immediately after the bells. This involves being the first person to enter the house of a friend or neighbour, thus becoming the first foot in the door. Hence, the person doing the first-footing is known as the first-foot.
The first-foot is expected to bring suitable gifts to ensure good luck throughout the year. These may include: A lump of coal - for warmth. Cake or biscuits - to ensure the household never goes hungry. The cake is often a very rich and moist fruit cake known as Black Bun. Salt - to bring wealth.
When presenting the lump of coal, the first-foot should say, 'Lang may yer lum reek', a traditional Scots good luck blessing for the long dark nights, literally translated as 'Long may your chimney smoke.'
Nowadays, however, gifts usually consist of a bottle and a box of chocolates or other sweets.
The first foot.
It is important for the good luck of the household that the first-foot is a suitable person; the ideal first-foot is a tall, dark-haired stranger - this harks back to the days of the Vikings, when a blond-haired stranger arriving in the middle of the night wasn't usually good news. Of course, these days, it is more likely that the first-foot will be known to those being visited, but as long as he's tall and dark, that's okay. Some traditions say he should be handsome as well, but that's probably just a general wish on the part of the female members of the visited households. Come to that, there's no reason nowadays why a woman can't be the first-foot, although some traditionalists do insist that female first-foots are unlucky.
First-foots don't always stop at just visiting one house. Sometimes just one person will go on to another house; more often a group of friends will go round each other's houses. The first-foot may be the same person at each door or they may take turns; the only important thing is that there must be gifts for each house visited. The first-footing, which quickly becomes second, third, or more-footing, often continues well into the morning of 1st January, with participants joining in and dropping out throughout the night - and the next day.
Of course, you may think that the first-foot is getting a bit of a raw deal, giving gifts to each house he visits. Not so. In exchange for his bringing you luck, it is traditional to offer him food and drink. The drink will obviously be tailored to the person, but if you want to be really traditional, offer him a Het Pint (a combination of ale, nutmeg and whisky) or at least a dram of whisky, preferably a large one.
You might live somewhere out-of-the-way, or your house might be missed out for some reason, or maybe you're away visiting family or friends. For whatever reason you haven't been first-footed, you don't want to miss out on the luck, so what do you do? Opinions vary on this, but it's quite common in rural areas to leave a lump of coal outside the door so that when you next go into the house you can first-foot yourself. You may not be tall or dark and you're certainly not a stranger but at least the house should be blessed with good lucj.
"First-footing" on Hogmanay, a wonderful excuse to go out visiting friends and partying all night, but certain things are essential to make your New Year go with a swing.
Here's our pocket guide....
Hawf (half) Bottle
Your most important travelling companion. For it's traditional - and polite - to offer just about everyone you see a "dram". It's also traditional for it to be whisky. Though in these more cosmopolitan times, it could be anything alcoholic.
Lump of Coal
In days of yore never mind the whisky, it was traditional for First Footers to carry a lump of coal with them. This was lovingly placed on the host's fire. If you're determined to do Hogmanay by the book then take the coal by all means but be prepared for some grief when you set it on top of the central heating radiators!
Not pieces of carbonised bread in case of hunger pangs on your New Year yomp, but the good wishes you bestow on Hogmanay gatherings.
A simple and appropriate one is:
A guid New Year to ane an a' And mony may ye see
(A good New Year to one and all And many may you see)
The more jingoistic may offer:
Here's tae us. Wha's like us. Damn few, and they're a' deid!
(Here's to us. Who's like us. Not many, and they're all dead!)
Depending on the type of gathering you are attending you may hear other "toasts". They could be:
Gaun yoursel', Big Man!
(You're a big chap, drinking a lot and are going to continue to do so!)
Gie it laldie!
An absolutely essential item. Not to make sure you get home again - rather to make sure you don't! Have it all marked up with the best parties and bashes so you don't miss a jig!
Not so much in case the whisky runs out. More in case your party spirit runs dry. Then it makes a handy seat on the pavement while you await that elusive taxi home. However, should you be actually taking it to drink then make sure it's "good quality" Jocko Brew, hand it over generously to your hosts and quickly find something more palatable.
A Tall, Dark Handsome Stranger
The first person to cross the threshold at Hogmanay brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead. And, to follow in tradition they have to fulfil certain criteria.
They have to be male, tall, dark and handsome. They cannot be doctors, ministers or grave-diggers (!) - oh, and your first footer cannot have eyebrows that meet in the middle! If you do find a first footer that fits the bill (for remember, we Scots might be handsome but, as a race, we're not renowned for our height) then hang on to them - you could make a packet!
P.S. Being a First Footer is great because tradition dictates you can claim a kiss from every lady in the place! XXXXX!
This isn't part of your First Foot Pack as such, more something you'll need as dawn breaks the following morning with a thunderous bang in your heid! We only have two suggestions - take to a darkened room or keep partying.
Seriously, we'd be very interested in your hangover remedies and we'll display the best so other can benefit from your hard-earned wisdom.
First-footing also takes place in some parts of northern England.
In England the food was normally bread but regional variations ranged from red herrings in the East Neuk of Fife fishing villages, mince piecs in Sheffield to Black Bun in Scotland - a rich fruit cake encased in pastry. Sometimes the food was replaced with drink - a glass of wine in Staffordshire and whisky in Scotland.
But of all the symbols the one most regularly included was coal, not only because is was the basis of family life giving them warmth and fuel for cooking but also because it has always been seen as being lucky - soldiers carrying it into battle with them and children taking pieces into exams.
Equally varied is the type of person doing the First Footing. Long ago it could have been a chance caller but now people make sure of their luck. Often a member of the family or someone at a New Year's party will go outside before midnight to come back to perform the ceremony, or a neighbour or friend is enlisted. In most places the First Foot will be a man but in some parts women are preferred.
The First Foot (or Lucky Bird as they were called in Yorkshire), was rewarded with food and drink and so good was the welcome that in Edinburgh fights would break out among youths competing for First Foot rights in prosperous neighbourhoods.
There's also a host of variable First Foot rules. In areas of England and Scotland the First Foot must not speak until he or she has placed a piece of coal or evergreen branch on the fire. But in other places things were far noisier. In the Staffordshire Black Country the First Foot would run through the house shouting `Please to let the New Year in'. In County Durham they would exclaim `Happy New Year t'ye! God send ye plenty! Where ye have one pound note, I wish ye may have twenty.'
I love you, I'll always love you, I'll never leave you, I'll always be with you, until the end of time.
05/10/2007 The day I found my true self