The beginning of a new year is widely celebrated as a time of great magical significance, and every society has its own rituals associated with the event. Perhaps the best known of all the New Year superstitions in the Western world is the business of "first footing." Apparently, a Scottish invention, the "first footer" is the first man to cross the threshold after the hour of midnight has struck: if he is dark-haired and carries with him such propitious objects as a piece of coal, bread, salt, and money, the good luck of the household is guaranteed for the whole year ahead. If, however, the first footer is blond or red-headed, bad luck will befall the house; if the first footer is female this is even worse, as she ushers in only the direst misfortune.
In an ideal world, the first footer will be a stranger to all present and on no account must he be cross-eyed or flat-footed or have eyebrows that meet in the middle. Once let into the house, he may then be shown out again by the back door, thus symbolically letting the old year out. in the event that no suitable first footer presents himself, the owner of a house should carry a piece of coal into his own home early on New Year's Day. Historical variations include regional traditions that have the person concerned entering the house on Christmas Day (in which case, in Yorkshire at least, he was referred to as the "Lucky Bird").
Other New Year superstitions depend on the notion that whatever happens at this particular time sets the pattern for the rest of the year. It is unlucky, therefore, to see the New Year in with no food or drink in the cupboards -- they will remain bare over the ensuing twelve months. The same applies to money. Some people similarly contend that the fire should not be allowed to go out during this first night of the year, lest the hearth remain cold permanently. Likewise, it is important that before anything is allowed out of the house (even the ashes from the fire or the dust from the floor) something must be brought in -- indeed, in many areas people will show reluctance to throw away anything at all during New Year's Day for fear of throwing their luck away with it.
Rising early is a good idea, and to ensure a busy and profitable year at word all those in employment should do something during New Year that reflects their work in some way, even if they take New Year's Day itself off (it is, incidentally, very unlucky to do any serious work on this day). Wearing something new on New Year's Day, meanwhile, promotes the chances of receiving further new clothing in the year ahead. By much the same token, New Year is a bad time to pay money or to make loans, lend precious belongings or break anything. Ideally, any outstanding debts should be settles by New Year's Eve to ensure that further debts are not incurred in the year to come. Washing clothes on New Year's Day is inadvisable, for one of the family will themselves be "washed away" in the months ahead.
The practice of "ringing in" the New Year on church bells dates back centuries and is echoed in the wild shouting, singing, and other noise-making that takes place at midnight. This is more than just high spirits: the noise is supposed to drive away demons and other evil spirits and get the New Year off to a good start. Party goers, meanwhile, are advised that they should avoid speaking ill of the dying year until it is actually over in order to preserve their luck, and that to give their own fortune a boost they should consume the very last drops of any bottle that has been opened. If the party drink runs out, they may also like to know of the superstition which claims that well water turns to wine on New Year's Eve.
Attention should be paid to the weather during the early hours of New Year's Day. If the wind blows from the north, bad weather is in store; if it comes from the south, fine weather and prosperous times lie ahead; if it blows from the east, famine or some other calamity is on the way; if it blows from the west, the year will witness plentiful supplies of milk and fish but will also see the death of a very distinguished personage. If there is no wind at all, a joyful and prosperous year may be expected by all.
Lastly, babies born on New Year's Day will grow up with luck always on their side.
Have a Happy New Year, dear readers!