Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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NEW YEAR'S DAY
As to the general attitude towards woman suggested by these superstitions I may quote a striking passage from Miss lam-Harrison's "Themis." "Woman to primitive man is a thine at once weak and magical, to be oppressed, vet feared. Sin is charged with powers of child-bearing denied to man, powers only half understood, forces of attraction, but also of dancer and repulsion, forces that all over the world seem to fill him with dim terror. The attitude of man to woman, and, though perhaps in a less degree, of woman to man, is still to-day essentially magical." l6
"First-foot" superstitions flourish in the north of England and in Scotland. In the northern counties a man is often specially retained as " first-foot " or " lucky bird " ; in some parts he must be a bachelor, and he is often expected to bring a present with him—a shovelful of coals, or some eatable, or whisky.1? In the East Riding of Yorkshire a boy called the "lucky bird" used to come at dawn on Christmas morning as well as on New Year's Day, and bring a sprig of evergreensl8—an offering by now thoroughly familiar to us. In Scotland, especially in Edinburgh, it is customary for domestic servants to invite their sweethearts to be their " first-foots." The old Scotch families who preserve ancient customs encourage their servants to " first-foot " them, and grandparents like their grandchildren to perform for them the same service.10 In Aberdeenshire it is considered most important that the "first-foot" should not come empty-handed. Formerly he carried spiced ale ; now he brings a whisky-bottle. Shortbread, oat-cakes, "sweeties," or sowens, were also sometimes brought by the "first-foot," and occasionally the sowens were sprinkled on the doors and windows of the houses visited— a custom strongly suggesting a sacramental significance of some sort.20
Before we leave the subject of British " first-footing " we may notice one or two things that have possibly a racial significance. Not only must the " first-foot " be a man or boy, he is often required to be dark-haired ; it is unlucky for a fair- 01 red-haired person to " let in " the New Year.** It has been suggested In Sir John Rhys that this idea rested in the first instance upon
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