For as many years as I remember, Dad was never with us to celebrate the turn of the year. Before midnight, he would be banished from the house, to stand vigil outside the front door. Just after twelve, there would be a knock and we would welcome him in, bearing a lump of coal.
First-Footing is an old tradition, where the first person to enter the house after the stroke of midnight – the First Foot – would set the tone for the year ahead, so it was important that they brought luck. The most auspicious First Foot of all was considered to be a tall, dark man, so my six foot three, dark-haired Dad was always a prized First Foot. The First Foots usually brought small gifts, symbols of plenty for the year ahead, and with us it was always coal, quite appropriate for a family with a mining heritage.
I still remember going ‘First-Footing’ as a child. We would shuffle from house to house after midnight, visiting family and friends. But I wonder if the tradition has now been lost. These days it seems many of us celebrate quietly behind closed doors, as individual households rather than communities. Still, New Year’s Day is one of the few days of the year when we greet passing strangers we would otherwise ignore, wishing them happiness for the year ahead.
On New Year’s Day, my First Foot is the year itself. I take up my besom broom and sweep the house from back to front. It’s a symbolic sweeping, brushing the old year out of the back door, brushing the new year in. I welcome the energy of the new year and ask for a blessing on the house for the months to come. The response is a gaggle of goldfinches fluttering over the yard, filling the air with their light-hearted chatter.
I find the energy of this season to be a deep, earthy energy, quite unlike the airiness of spring or summer. It is a force that works beneath consciousness. I don’t make resolutions for the new calendar year, because the cycle began for me at Halloween, when the old year died and I was led into the land of dreaming. But my dreamtime this year has been disrupted: by illness, loss, exhaustion. And my dreams have not been new ones, but visions of the past that haunt me. There is something afoot, something working through me, that is unlikely to become clear until I have worked my way through the dark half of the year.
2016 was a year haunted by confusion and despair, in which it seemed that the world had somehow shifted and that chaos was near. As the year turned there was a sense that whatever would come knocking at midnight would not be auspicious. But as I greet the new year at my door, I feel only a deep sense of peace. There is no reason for my optimism except that I know by now that the cycle never runs smoothly. I know that chaos often comes before creation, disruption before dreams. And I know that there will always be another dream as light and joyful as the flutter of birds above my head.