First-Footing

dad-2For 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.

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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.

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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.

99 thoughts on “First-Footing

  1. Thank you for this beautiful, hopeful post, Andrea. Finally a positive thought about this 2017. I’ve heard a little of those traditions, but haven’t known anyone who practiced them. I think they are marvelous. I’m glad you shared details here.
    It was a year of sad difficulties for me as well; failure. I well understand your haunted feeling. No matter the predictions or the odds, may it be a perfectly happy New Year for all of us. Mega hugs.

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    • Thanks Teagan I’m glad you enjoyed reading more about these traditions. I’ve very much enjoyed your writing achievements this year, reading Guitar Mancer, your serial published – not failure at all 🙂 Let’s hope for creation out of the chaos!

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  2. This is a lovely story. I, too, am experiencing the sense of something afoot and a yearning for clarity. Usually I look toward a fresh start when a new year begins. But this year somehow feels different.

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  3. Andrea, may Hecate’s double flaming torches light the way! There’s a marvellous unity between all our lives and the cycles that engulf them. Your wonderful reflection here reminds me of two things: “To everything, turn turn turn, there is a season…” And the opposite is Yeats – “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer…” I only wish I’d known to sweep my own house at the just-passed New Year. Next year perhaps!

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  4. My husband, also a dark-haired 6′ 3″ man, was a favourite first-footer in his family. Being a ‘southern jessie’ I don’t have first-footing traditions and Richard hasn’t kept them up since moving south. That last photo of the sun behind the trees is glorious!

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  5. Is your family Scottish, Andrea? I haven’t thought about “first-footing” in years and years. It was a tradition in our family, too, and my dad was Scottish and before he was bald he had brown hair. Goldfinches sound like an auspicious beginning to 2017 – gold with wings? Thanks for the dose of optimism at the start of the new year.

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  6. This is such a timely post for me, Andrea. I was explaining to Son about first foots and lumps of coal as we sat inside, doors closed, watching the Hootenanny at the strike of twelve. He wouldn’t believe it and thought it was some crazy thing my father had invented! Thank you😀

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  7. What a most beautiful post and the first time I ever hear about First-Footing. I love the idea of it
    I love the idea of rituals of all sorts and this one, the sweeping out of the old and in with the new is a really nice one.
    Happy New Year, Andrea, it has started off on the right foot, I would say! xo

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  8. I am fascinated by the “first footing” tradition–I’ve never heard of it. May I ask where you grew up? Was it a regional tradition? I also like the simple power of sweeping out the house. I hope your optimism for dreams and joy and lights holds–I’m sort of concerned about this upcoming year . . .

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    • Hi Kerry, yes, I’m from the north east of England – I believe it’s a Scottish tradition so I’m not sure whether we practised it because I have half Scottish heritage or because of the cross over of traditions being so close to Scotland – it certainly seemed to be a common thing where we lived. I have concerns about the year ahead too, but I’m hoping for the best…

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  9. I love hearing about traditions like this and had never heard of First-Footing. Those traditions do seem to be more community oriented, like Christmas caroling. Around here some towns do a First Night celebration where different musicians or bands will be playing in community halls or churches and people walk from one to the other to listen to the music all night. Hope you have a happy dreamtime and new year!

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  10. It’s a shame when such customs are lost but at least they are recorded and perhaps still thrive in smaller communities. So far unlike your symbolic sweeping, my house work hasn’t gotten much loving but I like your message of the cycle, let us hope we have come out of the worst of it for a time and things can get back to a bit of normality.

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  11. Yes, indeed. Sometimes bad/chaos comes along to make way for its opposite later. I hope this is one of those times. The First Foot story is magical. I love it. It also feels familiar, and I wonder if we ever did anything like this in my childhood years, or maybe it takes place in Newfoundland today? Will have to check it out. Thanks for a lovely post, as usual.

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  12. I remember hearing of this tradition, Andrea. But, I’m not sure from where, maybe from my Scottish ancestors. It was nice to revisit it again.

    I share your uneasy feelings on the upcoming changes and shifts and look within/without and see the hope all around in Nature and I’m encouraged. Here’s what fills me with hope and love. Oh, to soar like the starlings. Happy New Year! Love and hugs, Andrea.

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  13. Once again, your lovely words move me … they make me feel. I love those traditions you shared. We’ve never done any particular tradition at the start of a new year, but I think I’d like to start some next time. Thanks for sharing these.

    P.S. My husband recently lost both of his parents, and I read your post to him about loss. It seemed to soothe him.

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  14. I love hearing about First Footing and sweeping out your house. I’m glad you saw goldfinches. Your writing has engaging depth. This year is different for me, too. It is unreal with the sharp changes threatening the US. I hunt for glimpses of light when I read the news. I hang on to hope and watch for developments. I do say Happy New Year to everyone I see.

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  15. thank you, Andrea, for sharing such a wonderful tradition with us – am so glad you visiting me blog – as its led me to yours!

    wishing you & yours the best for 2017 🙂

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  16. What a wonderful traditions: first-footing and sweeping! Never heard of them either. You have expressed your feelings in an elegant way which gives me hope for the coming seasons and days also as you feel a sense of peace at your door.

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  17. I’ve never heard of this tradition, Andrea – how interesting. Maybe where the phrase ‘making a clean sweep of it’ came from? I’m with you on how much of this past year has similarly affected me, but know what? In one aspect, I’d really just had enough and decided to finally get up off my arse and start what I need – and really want – to do. I think you nailed it when you said often chaos before creation.
    It can be so complicated being creative sometimes, can’t it? 🙂

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  18. I had never heard of this tradition, Andrea. But I like it. I agree with you about 2016. I was quite eager to turn the page although still unsure of the unfolding story. I wish you peace and love and many, many moments filled with simple joy during this New Year.

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  19. My favorite line: “I know that chaos often comes before creation, disruption before dreams.” Beautiful. And I love your sweeping ritual. I performed my own ritual last year, burning sage and sweetgrass to cleanse the energy in my home and bring in the new. Regardless of what we choose, I love the hope and perseverance that we bring to challenging times. Wishing you New Year’s blessings . . .

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  20. I love the sound of this! I read through the comments and learned that it’s a Scottish tradition. My mom’s family came here from Scotland to help settle the colonies–wonder if they brought this fun idea with them but let it slowly fade away to other traditions. I’ve never heard of it before, but I think we could all use a first-footer to start the year off right!

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  21. Andrea, I’m so sorry that your dreamtime was disrupted by those things. As for the chaotic state of the world, the media are so into negative reportage, that we can only fear the worst. In a certain way, they’re helping certain groups or individuals spread fear, by giving them publicity. I used to get very angry when I was in my teens when older people said to me, “Smile. It might never happen”, but cliche or not, it’s true. On the other hand, if we expect the worst, then we can only be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen!
    I love the first-footing ritual. My son would make an excellent an excellent first-foot, as he’s 6′ 5″ with dark hair.
    Here’s wishing you a peaceful, happy, and successful 2017 🙂 xox

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  22. (forgive my lateness again!) I remember this custom on Hogmanay and if there was no dark haired man Mom sent me out to come to the door as my hair at one time was fully black! Thanks for this wonderful post and memory of this ancient tradition though I don’t recall the sweep, I love the significance. All the best my friend for the new year

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  23. Love your positive outlook going into the new year—this particular year was a trying one for most of us, but it’s still important to look ahead with the right attitude. I just shared this cartoon on Facebook earlier this week that pretty much summed up how I felt about this beginning.

    I couldn’t find the link of the original cartoon to share with you, so I’ll try to explain it. There were two characters, dogs or rodents or something, and one was planting seeds on the “0” of 2017…

    “Why so optimistic about 2017? What do you think it will bring?”
    “I think it will bring flowers.”
    “Yes, how come?”
    “Because I am planting flowers.”

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  24. Beautiful post, Andrea, and it speaks peace. First-footing is such a delightful tradition – what could be better than bringing good luck to your neighbors home. I wish we bring only good things to others. Have a wonderful New Year – there are many reasons for optimism, always.

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  25. A very interesting post! 🙂
    One question- “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”. On all other days, is the sweeping done from front to back? Because this is how I sweep (and mop) the house daily; rather, how it is done here.
    And the First Foot tradition- it is a lovely custom and do hope it won’t die out.
    Where I grew up, in South India, we have a variation. Entering a new place, if one wants an auspicious start (who doesn’t?), always put the right foot inside first. This applies to new brides, new homes, new workplaces..anything.
    Many times we imagine that things are not working out well. At least now, after many years of living, I have the conviction that they are- in the exact way that we will be most benefitted. I find that thought comforting.
    The arms of the Great Mother ever surround us, Andrea.

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    • Thank you Sylvia, and actually, I’ve re-read the post and it should have said front to back – the new year in the front door pushing the old year out of the back 🙂 Do you know if there’s a reason you always do it front to back – I wonder if it’s based on a similar idea? The right foot first is interesting, I wonder if this goes back to the ‘left’ being considered unlucky? We all have such rich traditions, although so similar in many ways.

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      • Okay, now it makes more sense to me. There is no reason I know for that practice as such. Just that it is the way it was done at our home, which I copied. Something I can think of is this, the goddess of Auspiciousness- Shree-is always supposed to enter through the front door. So what if she turned up while one was sweeping rubbish out of the front door? She would be quite revolted and leave, perhaps never to return. 🙂

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  26. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. Not only did I learn about your family traditions, but also you. I can relate completely with what you say about chaos often preceding a creative time, and like you I begin to move towards the New Year after Halloween. For me it is always a time of renewal.

    I hope you move into this new period filled with a new strength and resolve…and yes may the birds always be with us. Janet.

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  27. Such a fascinating tradition, Andrea. I can’t think of any traditions my family has for New Years (we even avoid the fireworks like the plague; we’re just not party people).
    I’ve just read about First Footing, having known nothing about it, in an autobiography by Phil Collins, but I’m thinking they (he and his family) weren’t calling it first footing. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a book review for it, so perhaps I’ll relook that up. Besides, my curiosity is now gnawing at me.
    However, the feminist in me wonders: why not a dark-haired woman (or person who identifies with no gender) for a ‘first-footer’?
    In any case, Andrea, wishing you and yours an auspicious 2017—to magic, writing, friendship, creativity, and love!

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    • Thanks Leigh – we aren’t party people either and the fireworks are a bit of a trial now we have a dog, as he gets very unsettled by them. We usually have a very quiet New Year, but I do remember with fondness some of those family celebrations hearing the older people in the family telling stories. I do agree though about the stereotypes involved in some myths and traditions. I became a witch at a relatively young age but then became disillusioned with the way many of the myths and rituals seemed to be based on stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity and the polarity of male and female. I came back to it again with more maturity when I understood that this wasn’t the only way it could be practised or understood.

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  28. I love the tradition of standing outside the front door and your father being the first to enter with the piece of coal. These traditions are difficult for me to let go of. It seems we are letting a piece of what makes us work as humans stray away to an unknown place.
    I can relate to sweeping out the house to get rid of the old year. This tradition seems a necessary tradition to me. I love the yellow finches flew up for you [one of my favorite light-hearted birds].
    I Have hope for this year ahead of us, Andrea. Maybe it’s because Tom was in total crisis all last year and wasn’t expected to live from day to day. He’s terribly ill still, but deep in the pit of my stomach, I have hope, and I see this as a good thing. Happy New Year My friend. Sheri

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    • I agree Sheri, it’s very sad to part with some of these traditions – and so many will already have been lost. I do have hope too Sheri, despite the pessimism that seemed to haunt the old year. And I do hope for both you and Tom in particular that you have a good year.

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  29. I don’t recall any particular New Year traditions being followed in our Brummie/Irish household. Here in Jersey you’d have paid a holy fortune in the past to see in the New Year at one of the big hotels. I see none of that now. Let’s hope that the calendar year 2017 is better for you Andrea, and for the world.

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  30. Yes I remember that little ritual. Interestingly, my Dad also brought in a lump of coal, although we lived nowhere near a coalfield. I guess it symbolized a sign of plenty. Also interestingly, when I left home the ritual died. I never repeated it once.

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  31. Beautifully expressed Andrea I love the way you sweep out the old year, in ready for the new. I declutter the house usually in ready for new things coming. I had never heard of the tradition your parents practiced at New Year either. A whole new year awaits and with it I wish you peace, balance and an abundance of creativity. All the best.

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  32. Andrea, this is a lovely post. I’d heard of this tradition but never known anyone who has experienced it so wonderful to read about your father knocking on the door, coal in hand heralding the new year. Then touched to read about the goldfinches at your door following your sweep through the house. I am sorry the past year has been difficult for you but your sense of hope and optimism shines through to the serenity and surety of your last lines: ‘ 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.’ Beautifully written. Warmest wishes to you.❤️

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  33. I enjoyed learning your tradition. It seems a good piece of fiction could begin with a first-footing episode. We knew everyone on the blocks around us when I was young but so much has changed now. In my neighborhood we had a community tradition on May Day (May 1st). The kids picked flowers and put them in construction paper funnels for the neighborhood moms. We ran from house with those flower baskets, leaving them on the door knobs and ringing the bell. We have such amazing technologies to communicate but if seems people are only growing further apart.

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  34. Dear Andrea, I so enjoyed this lovely salute to the new year. I have never heard of the first-footing tradition, sounds wonderful. And your memories of your tall, handsome father at the front door are really special, thank you so much for sharing it. My best wishes for a new year filled with more peace, resolve, patience, and acceptance.

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  35. A beautiful entry, Andrea! I appreciate the symbolism of the things you mention and will think of them. I enjoy praying and listening as the new year moves in, and you describe well what it feels like to attempt to discern the atmospheric activities and to be made aware in a deep place of one’s spirit what the focus should be. I am still waiting for the full “unfoldment/epiphany” to emerge, and I will know it when it does. I love your descriptions of nature!

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  36. Love the closing, which of course is only the beginning. Yes, life certainly does not run linear or smoothly. I’m so sorry you are still coming out of a difficult season, Andrea. Sounds like realism and hope are keeping you grounded.

    Xx
    D.

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  37. I love this tradition. And your sweeping out the old year too. Very cool. Glad things are shifting again. I think we need the darker times to appreciate the lighter ones. But sometimes those darker times feel like they will never lift–until they suddenly do. Hugs.

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