I used to love New Year when I was a child. My parents always liked to bring in the New Year at home, then we would visit my aunt and uncle about half an hour’s journey away. My aunt had a running buffet from about midnight onwards. There would be soup, a cooked ham, sometimes roast beef or chicken as well but it would be accompanied by vegetables and bread. Besides first-footing being thirsty work, you needed to keep sustenance up as well. It kept you going longer and since you visited many houses and were drinking many drams, the food provided an excellent lining for stomachs.
I don’t remember fighting or brawling but there would be a few who were rather the worse for wear but basically the visitors we saw were a cheery lot. Plenty of stories and jokes and the camaraderie amongst them would be worthy of top billing on stage. This was more like a ceilidh (kay-ly) although we hear of ceilidhs now, we think of Scottish country dances but it is actually a gathering for music, songs and story telling.
It was customary to take your ne’erday bottle with you when visiting to offer your host a drink whilst wishing them health, wealth and happiness for the coming year. It was bad luck and bad manners to refuse a drink from someone’s ne’erday bottle. The ‘first-foot’ traditionally should be male, dark-haired and carrying a lump of coal to signify good luck and prosperity. Lang may you lum reek, (long may there be smoke from your chimney) was a common toast to friends.
Another common custom was a quick spring clean of the home, you couldn’t take the dirt from the old year into the new. Also many people would open the back door to let the old year out, and the front door to let the new year in.
It was fun for all the family although children found it more difficult to keep pace with adults, their tipple being alcohol free ginger wine or blackcurrant cordial. All drinks were supported by shortbread or fruit cake etc. Our curfew was around three o’clock, remembering my father still had to drive home. Daylight could be another round of visiting family and friends before a celebratory dinner.
As adults, we continued to celebrate New Year in various ways and at that time, living in a small village, we visited more of our neighbours. One particular year, our Filipino neighbours were looking forward to their first Scottish New Year so they came along with us on our first footing of various neighbours. We had a good time and ended up at our Filipino friend’s home for the final party. The next day is when everyone finds out if we lost anyone along the way – but our neighbour had lost his teeth. It was a lost cause having called again at all the houses visited earlier and no sign of the teeth. It was an accepted casualty of the celebrations so when a passing neighbour called in to wish our toothless gent a happy new year, he noticed the dog behind the sofa chewing on something – Donny found his teeth. Whether he ever wore them again, we didn’t ask.