Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Scotland and Macedonia. Let us begin with some English examples of it. In Shropshire the most important principle is that if luck is to rest on a house the " first-foot " must not be a woman. To provide against such an unlucky accident as that a woman should call first, people often engage a friendly man or boy to pay them an early visit. It is particularly interesting to find a Shropshire parallel to the polaznifs action in going straight to the hearth and striking sparks from the Christmas log,* when Miss Burne tells us that one old man who used to " let the New Year in " " always entered without knocking or speaking, and silently stirred the fire before he offered any greeting to the family." IO
In the villages of the Teme valley, Worcestershire and Here­fordshire, " in the old climbing-boy days, chimneys used to be swept on New Year's morning, that one of the right sex should be the first to enter; and the young urchins of the neighbourhood went the round of the houses before daylight singing songs, when one of their number would be admitted into the kitchen c for good luck all the year.' " In 1875 this custom was still practised ; and at some of the farmhouses, if washing-day chanced to fall on the first day of the year, it was either put off, or to make sure, before the women could come, the waggoner's lad was called up early that he might be let out and let in again.11
The idea of the unluckiness of a woman's being the "first­foot " is extraordinarily widespread ; the present writer has met with it in an ordinary London restaurant, where great stress was laid upon a man's opening the place on New Year's morning before the waitresses arrived. A similar belief is found even in far-away China : it is there unlucky on New Year's Day to meet a woman on first going out.12 Can the belief be connected with such ideas about dangerous influences proceeding from women as have been described by Dr. Frazer in Vol. III. of " The Golden Bough," x3 or does it rest merely on a view or woman as the inferior sex ? The unluckiness of first meeting a woman is, we may note, not confined to, but merely intensified on New Year's Day; in Shropshire T4 and in Germany *5 it belongs to any ordinary day.
* See p. 252.
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