190 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
when its chiming has ceased, to catch the sound of the first-foot on the door :—
" The first foot's entering step, That sudden on the floor is welcome heard, ,
Ere blushing maids have braided up their hair ; The laugh, the hearty kiss, the good New Year, Pronounced with honest warmth."
Considerable importance was formerly (and probably is still) attached to this custom. The welfare of a family—particularly of the fairer portions of its members—was supposed to depead much on the character of the person who might first cross the threshold, after the mid-hour of this night had sounded. Great care was, therefore, taken to exclude all improper persons; and—when the privilege of the season is taken into consideration (that, viz.,— of the hearty kiss above mentioned),—it is probable that the maidens themselves might consider it desirable to interfere, after their own fashion, in the previous arrangements which were to secure the priority of admission to an unobjectionable guest.
But our space does not permit us to inquire at length, in the present volume, into any other customs than those which belong to an English Christmas season. We have only been able occasionally to advert to others—even amongst our own sister nations— when they helped to throw light upon those which, on this occasion, are our immediate subject. We must therefore return at once, to the only general and conspicuous observance of this eve in England—viz.,—that which is commonly called " seeing the new year in."
It is almost impossible for man, on this day, to be insensible to the " still small voices " that call upon him for a gathering up of his thoughts. In the very midst of the house of mirth, a shadow passes through the heart, and summons it to a solemn conference. The skeleton who sits at all feasts,—though overlooked at most, from long habit,—gets power on this day to wave his hand, and points emphatically, with his " slow-moving finger," to the long record whose burthen is " passing away !" The handwriting of Time comes visibly out upon the wall; and the spirit pauses to read its lessons, and take an account of the wrecks which it registers, and the changes which it announces. Properly speak-