Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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NEW YEAR'S DAY
familiar to us all, but in England we have not that custom of paying formal calls which in France is so characteristic of January I, when not only relations and personal friends, hut people whose connection is purely official are expected to visit one another. In devout Brittany the wish exchanged takes a beautiful religious formó"I wish you a good year and Paradise at the end of your days." 6
New Year calling is by no means confined to France. In the United States it is one of the few traces left by the early Dutch settlers on American manners. The custom is now rapidly falling into disuse,7 but in New York up to the middle of the nineteenth century " New Year's Day was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed and family differences amicably settled. A hearty welcome was extended even to strangers of presentable appearance." At that time the day was marked by tremendous eating and drinking, and its visiting customs sometimes developed into wild riot. Young men in barouches would rattle from one house to another all day long. a The ceremony of calling was a burlesque. There was a noisy and hilarious greeting, a glass of wine was swallowed hurriedly, everybody shook hands all round, and the callers dashed out and rushed into the carriage and were driven rapidly to the next house." 8
The New Year calling to offer good wishes resembles in some respects the widespread custom of "first-footing," based on the belief that the character of the first visitor on New Year's Day affects the welfare of the household during the year. We have already met with a " first-foot" in the polaznik of the southern Slavs on Christmas Day. It is to be borne in mind that for them, or at all events for the Crivoscian Highlanders whose customs are described by Sir Arthur Evans, Christmas is essen≠tially the festival of the New Year: New Year's Day is not spoken of at all, its name and ceremonies being completely absorbed by the feasts of "Great" and "Little" Christmas.9
The " first-foot" superstition is found in countries as far apart as
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