• Rachel Anne Baer

First Footing

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

#firstfooting #newyearseve #newyear #hogmanay #scottishcelebrations #childhoodmemories

When I was around eight to ten years old, we spent a few years living in a three bedroomed terraced house in a small town called Dunbar in East Lothian Scotland. I even remember the address, 4 New House Terrace with a bright green gate leading up to the front door. We made good friends there & enjoyed living across the road from the beach and close enough for an easy drive to the ruins of several old Scottish castles, a wonderful playground for young children to explore. We would on occasion visit the city of Edinburgh with its cobbled streets, interesting shops & enjoy hide & seek sessions around the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. This was in the days when we were allowed to climb on top of the various cannons situated around the grounds.

We would always visit one of the small gift shops nearby & come home with a small pack of Edinburgh rock. I remember the soft sugary taste & texture, sweet & crumbly when I bit into it, not at all like the usual seaside sticks of rock that although just as sweet, threatened to break your teeth if you dared bite down too hard.

One of my most vivid memories of our time in Scotland was the annual First Footing tradition. First Footing is the years old tradition of being the first person to step into another's home at the start of the New year, thought to bring good luck. A tall dark haired man is thought to bring the best luck for the New Year. First Footers come bearing gifts of traditional fruit cake, whiskey & sometimes coal, thought to bring prosperity for the coming year. Although young, we were allowed to stay up until beyond midnight on New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as the Scotts call it. If we had fallen asleep, we were woken up or as in my younger brother’s case carried or transported in a stroller or baby seat.

As the midnight hour approached my parents would bundle us up in warm jackets, gather the traditional gifts of whisky, fruit cake & something for the children, we would make our way out into the cold winter night to one of the neighbors where there would be much merry making.

Families I recognized from the street would throng at the doorway shouting their celebrations of the New Year. The sound of bagpipes playing from the record player & at some point everyone would join hands & raucously sing Auld Lang Syne together, even the youngest children were included in this loud & exuberant ritual.

It was strange to see men I barely recognized in the full swing of celebratory revelries; they were parents I hardly knew as they were usually out at work when I saw the mothers & children at the school gate. If I did see them it would have been whilst in their work clothes as they arrived home, tired at the end of a long day. Here they were lively, jubilant with a glass of scotch in their hand celebrating in a way that only a true Scotsman knows how to do.

After an hour or so the mothers would gather up their sleepy children & make their way back home to put the kids to bed. While the dads stayed behind to catch up, have another round or two, carrying their celebrations into the “wee hours”. This was one of the few nights that hard working men could “let their hair down” so to speak, celebrate the New Year in style before returning to their work routine.

© Rachel Baer

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