Having recently returned to Scotland after spending the holidays with my big crazy family in Florida, I’m left with a prevailing thought: superstitions are a funny thing. On the surface they appear harmless enough – like shaking out dropped dishrags to avoid unwanted visitors or expecting them when your nose begins to itch. Yet, speak to any child raised by the stubborn kind of Southern grandmother like mine was, you’ll learn the more serious side of not adhering to superstition. These are the kind that stick with you for life and possibly send a good portion of grandchildren raised below the Mason-Dixon Line to therapy.
One could debate all day long whether there is some actual cosmic correlation to doing something at a certain time, on a certain day, or in a certain way that evokes a negative reaction. That’s a philosophical question I’m, frankly, just too lazy to answer. However, all evidence points to the fact that January 1st is the scariest day of the year. It’s the New Years superstitions that reach out and smack you when you’re not looking. I know that on New Years Day I should always have a man be the first to enter my home and to never touch a washing machine for fear of killing someone in my family.
Just ask Mother, she’s chalked up my grandmother’s broken leg and “washing out” a great-uncle by breaking the rules, and Brother is convinced he half-killed my grandfather the year he washed clothes, but didn’t dry them, and Papa luckily recovered from his heart attack.
I thought I’d escaped some of the more serious side effects associated with year-transition once I moved to Scotland, but little did I know this is the country that invented all this stuff to begin with. The Scots call it Hogmanay, and, if you didn’t know, they own New Years. Apparently, a snarky little man named Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in, like, 1647, so the Scots got their groove on at New Years instead – exorcising any Calvinist repression and warming up the cold winter with fireworks and singing and whisky. Lots of whisky.
We have their homeboy Robert Burns to thank for the ever-present “Auld Lang Syne.” Remember that thing about a dude being the first across your door at New Years? That’s called “first-footing” and the Scots invented it. It’s preferable for him to have dark hair (sorry gingers) and he should be carrying coal or short bread, and don’t forget the whisky. They even started the whole washing things = death movement. Probably due to the whisky hangover.
I’m sure there’s a PhD thesis in there somewhere about the migration of culture and oral traditions passed from one generation to the next, but really I’ve just got a suspicion I’ve jumped from the Southern frying pan into the Scottish fire. At least that fire is also associated with one kick-ass party.
Image Credit: Robbie Shade