British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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Jan. i.
NEW year's DAY.
the old custom of going about with the hot-pint—the ancient wassail—fell off.
There was in Scotland also a first-footing independent of the hot-pint It was a time for some youthful friend of the family to steal to the door, in the hope of meeting there the young maiden of his fancy, and obtaining the privilege of a kiss as her first-foot. Great was the disappointment on his part, and great the joking among the family, if, through accident or plan, some half-withered aunt or ancient grand-dame came to receive him instead of the blooming Jenny.— Book of Days, vol. i. p. 29.
In the south of Scotland, as soon as the clock has struck the midnight hour, one of a family goes to the well as quickly as possible, and carefully skims it; this they call getting the scum or ream (cream) of the well:
" Twall struck—twa neebour Lizzies raise, An' liltin gacd a sad gate ; The flower o' the well to our house gaes An' I'll the bonniest lad get."
The flower of the well signifies the first pail of water, and the girl who is so fortunate as to obtain the prize is sup­posed to have more than a double chance of obtaining the most accomplished young man in the parish.—Med. AEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 129.
As soon as the last night of the year sets in, it is the signal with the Strathdown Highlander for the suspension of his usual employment, and he directs his attention to more agreeable callings. The men form into bands, with tethers and axes, and shaping their course to the juniper bushes, they return home laden with mighty loads, which are arranged round the fire to dry until morning. A certain discreet person is despatched to the dead and living ford to draw a pitcher of water in profound silence, without the vessel touching the ground, lest its virtue should be destroyed, and on his return all retire to rest. Early on New Year's morn­ing the usque-cashrichd, or water from the dead and living ford, is drunk, as a potent charm until next New Year's Day, against the spells of witchcraft, the malignity of evil eyes, and the activity of all infernal agency. The qualified High-
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