Tuesday, January 1, 2008

All is quiet on New Year's Day

“All is quiet on New Year’s Day.
A world in white gets underway.
Though I want to be with you, be with you night and day,
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day……on New Year’s Day…”

And with that, I have fulfilled my standard New Year’s tradition of listening to the
U2 song “New Year’s Day as one of the first songs I listen to on New Year ’s Day…the other tradition is being taken care of right now as I listen to my favorite song in the known universe, Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence”, which I heard for the first time on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 1989 in Joe Clipp’s living room in Eislingen, Germany while watching a TV special on German cable.

Okay, that takes care of my traditions. They aren’t steeped in superstition, as so many other traditions are. Sure, I could say that unless I listen to these two songs that I’ll have bad luck all year or that a family member will die in 3 months, but I’m not an overly superstitious sort. The Depeche Mode song is just my favorite song, and playing it every year commemorates a great time in my life that coincided with New Year's. The U2 track is just me being pretentious about the title, since the song itself doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday; it’s about the violence in Northern Ireland, where the band grew up.

Other people have their own New Year’s traditions, a bit deeper-rooted in superstition than my own. Some folks believe that by not washing your hair and by wearing red festive clothing you’ll have good luck. Children born on New Year's Day bring great fortune and prosperity to the entire household, except for the parents of the child who now have to buy twice as many presents in a one-week span to cover Christmas and the birthday. It’s pretty common here in South Carolina to believe that eating Hoppin’ John or black-eyed peas brings good luck and that the eating of collard greens brings wealth. Some people believe that you shouldn’t eat poultry or beef on New Year’s, because a chicken or turkey scratches backwards, a cow stands still to eat, and a pig roots forward for food, and thusly pork is lucky because pigs think forward and those who dine on pork will move forward in the new year. Yeah, okay. I guess it wasn’t so lucky for the pig itself, now was it?

The Scots celebrate New Year’s as Hogmany, derived from a Gaelic phrase meaning “new morning”. The ancient Scots were as superstitious in their pagan beliefs as anyone, and as America is heavily populated by those of us of Scots descent, many of the beliefs have survived since they fled the “auld sod” for the New World. According to some Scottish superstitions, the first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you're about to have. Ideally, he should be dark-haired, tall, and good-looking, and it would be even better if he came bearing certain small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. (I myself would prefer that he bring a 12-pack of Samuel Adams or some single-malt Scotch in addition to some coins, and a couple pizzas are always welcomed too.) Blonde and redhead first footers bring bad luck, and female first footers should be shooed away as they are considered bad luck before they bring disaster down on the household. (Damn those pesky wimminz). The squint-eyed, the flat-footed, or men with eyebrows that meet in the middle bring bad luck if they are first-footers. But a man with a high instep, or one who comes on a horse, is considered particularly lucky. The first footer should knock and be let in rather than just using a key. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives; the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out.

The major problem I have with this is that I get someone come to my door perhaps once every 8 weeks or so. I may not receive a visitor till mid-February, and I don’t have 6-8 weeks to wait for any portents of luck to come my way. And also, with visitors to my domicile so few & far between, I can’t afford to be too choosy as to who deigns to visit me. Living out in the country comes with occasional disadvantages.

It is also thought weather plays a role in the day. If the wind blows from north, bad weather all year is in store; if it comes from the south, fine weather and prosperous times lie ahead; if it blows from the east, famine or some other calamity is on the way; if it blows from the west, the year will witness plentiful supplies of fish and milk but will also see the death of a very distinguished personage. If there is no wind at all, a joyful and prosperous year may be expected by all. If the wind blows in from the Gulf of Mexico, seek higher ground, call FEMA, and evacuate immediately.

I know folks who refuse to do laundry or even wash dishes on New Year’s, as this will lead to the death of a family member. To this end, an episode of Law & Order soon to be aired on NBC will feature a murder with clean dishes in a dish rack and neatly-folded laundry as evidence of pre-meditated murder. Since I had a couple days’ worth of dishes sitting in the sink due to hockey games the past two nights, I think I’ll risk the death of a loved one in order to save an outbreak of Ebola from growing in my sink today.

Judging from all the yadda-yadda superstitions and traditional beliefs associated with New Year’s Day, it seems to me that the safest course of action would be to clean the house the day after Christmas and drink yourself into an alcohol-induced coma until somewhere around January 3 so as to not befoul your home with evil misdeeds or inadvertently kill a family member. Pass the bottle, chum; I’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.

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