Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
racial antipathy—the natural antagonism of an indigenous dark-haired people to a race of blonde invaders.22 Another curious requirement—in the Isle of Man and Northumberland—is that the " first-foot" shall not be flat-footed : he should be a person with a high-arched instep, a foot that " water runs under." Sir John Rhys is inclined to connect this also with some racial contrast. He remarks, by way of illustration, that English shoes do not as a rule fit Welsh feet, being made too low in the instep.23
Some reference has already been made to Scottish New Year customs. In Scotland, the most Protestant region of Europe, the country in which Puritanism abolished altogether the celebration of Christmas, New Year's Day is a great occasion, and is marked by various interesting usages, its importance being no doubt largely due to the fact that it has not to compete with the Church feast of the Nativity. Nowadays, indeed, the example of Anglicanism is affecting the country to a considerable extent, and Christmas Day is becoming observed in the churches. The New Year, however, is still the national holiday, and January i a great day for visiting and feasting, the chief, in fact, of all festivals.24 New Year's Day and its Eve are often called the " Daft Days " ; cakes and pastry of all kinds are eaten, healths are drunk, and calls are paid.25
In Edinburgh there are striking scenes on New Year's Eve. "Towards evening," writes an observer, " the thoroughfares become thronged with the youth of the city. ... As the mid­night hour approaches, drinking of healths becomes frequent, and some are already intoxicated. . . . The eyes of the immense crowd are ever being turned towards the lighted clock-face of 'Auld and Faithfu'' Tron [Church], the hour approaches, the hands seem to stand still, but in one second more the hurrahing, the cheering, the hand-shaking, the health-drinking, is all kept up as long as the clock continues to ring out the much-longed-for midnight hour. . . . The crowds slowly disperse, the much-intoxicated and helpless ones being hustled about a good deal, the police urging them on out of harm's way. The first-footers are off and away, flying in every direction through the city, singing, cheering, and shaking hands with all and sundry."26
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