What New Year’s celebrations do you and your family have to get the new year started off right?
My husband didn’t grow up with much of a New Year’s tradition in his family, so I’ve always felt like we’ve floundered a bit on this holiday. But now, with our first grandchild, I feel like we have a chance to start something new. I really like some of these regency era traditions and am thinking about how to incorporate some of these into our family.
New Year’s Eve
In one tradition, the family or the party gathering in a circle before midnight. At the stroke of midnight, the head of the family would open the door and usher out the old and welcome the new.
Some who held to old superstitions removed ashes, rags, scraps and anything perishable from the house so that nothing was carried over from one year to the next. In this way, they would preserve their good luck and banish any bad.
I rather like these ideas. Starting off the year with a clean house–I’d never complain about that. And there’s something rather heartwarming about officially welcoming the new year into the house. Ok, maybe I’m sappy, but I like it.
Some Scots and folks of northern England believed in ‘first footing’—the nature of the first visitor to set foot across the threshold after midnight on New Year’s eve affected the family’s fortunes. A tall, dark, and handsome male stranger was the best omen, especially if his feet were the right shape. High-insteps implied that “water would run under”—that is bad luck would flow past.
A flat foot meant bad luck, as did women in most cases. These omens were not fully agreed upon, though. For some blonde or red-headed, bare-foot girls were bringers of good luck. I’ve got a couple blonde and red-headed friends who would probably love to come for a New Year’s visit!
Whoever was the first-footer, they had to be greeted with proper ceremony and a rhyme to welcome the New Year and bring good fortune. The “first footer” entered through the front door. Tradition held that no one spoke until the ‘first-footer’ wished the occupants a happy new year. The first-footer would leave through the back door and take all the old year’s troubles and sorrows.
Often the first-footer would come bearing traditional gifts: coin, a lump of coal, a piece of bread or shortbread, whiskey, salt and black bun—representing financial prosperity, warmth, food, good cheer and flavor in the new year. Dark haired young men often made the rounds of the neighborhood houses, bring good luck to the homes and to themselves when they were invited in for a holiday toast.
Call me sappy again, but making the first act of a new year a celebration of hospitality doesn’t seem like such a bad way to start things off.
New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day was considered a predictor of good fortune (or lack there of) for the next year. One custom was to hook a flat cake on the horns of a cow. If the cake fell off in front of the cow, it foretold good luck, if behind, bad. Of course if you ask me, aggravating a cow with horns by trying to hang anything off them just doesn’t sound like a great way to start a day, much less a year.
Not entirely like trying to put a cat in a cute costume. Claws+Teeth=bad luck–don’t need to try it to know for sure! But I digress.
In Hertfordshire, at sunrise on New Year’s Day, a hawthorn bush would be burned in the fields to ensure good luck and bountiful crops. Hawthorn branches would be woven into crowns and hung in the house as well.
In some regions, young women raced to draw the first water from the well in a practice known as ‘creaming the well.’ Possession of this water meant marriage with in the coming year. Some believed the water had curative properties and even washed the udders of cows with it to insure productivity.
In Scotland and the northern regions of England, traditional New Year’s (Hogmannay) foods include: shortbread, venison pie, haggis, black bun (pastry wrapped fruitcake) and rumbledethmps, I’m always up for food and trying new recipes. I’ve dug these up and may just try these for New Year’s Day dinner. (And yes, I am passing on the haggis. I’m going to leave that to the experts.)
1 1/4 lbs mashing potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed
3/4 lb turnip, peeled, boiled and mashed
1/4 lb unsalted butter
1/2 lb Savoy cabbage or Kale, finely sliced
Salt and Pepper
cheddar cheese, grated
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Place the mashed potato turnips and a large mixing bowl and put to one side.
- Melt half the butter in a frying pan, add the finely sliced cabbage or kale and cook gently for minutes until softened but not brown. Add to the bowl of potato and turnip, with the remaining butter and mash together thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the mashed vegetables in an ovenproof baking dish, sprinkle the cheese on top, cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove the lid and cook for a further 5 mins or until golden brown and if possible a little crispy on the top.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
- Cream butter and brown sugar. Add 3 to 3 3/4 cups flour. Mix well.
- Sprinkle board with the remaining flour. Knead for 5 minutes. Add in enough flour to make a soft dough.
- Roll 1/2 inch thick and cut into 1×3 inch bars, picking for a fork. Place on ungreased cooking sheet.
- Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes.
New Year’s Pretzel
One tradition that my husband did grow up with was a New Year’s Pretzel for breakfast.
When he first mentioned it, I asked what a New Year’s Pretzel was and he gave me that special look that asked ‘have you lost your mind?’ Since my mental faculties were indeed intact, I insisted that I had never heard of such a thing. How was that possible–surely everyone know what a New Year’s pretzel was.
After a bit of research, we discovered New Year’s Pretzels were not actually very common. In fact, the tradition of the New Year’s Pretzel is unique to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio. It dates from the turn of the 20th century. Sandusky became home to a very large German population that brought the holiday tradition to the community. (Read more here). Though a New Year’s Pretzel is usually eaten…wait for it…on New Year’s day, we enjoy it on Christmas morning, when all the kids are home together with us. Here’s a demonstration of how to make a New Year’s Pretzel.
Here’s a recipe to make your own
New Year’s Pretzel
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
2 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
7 cups flour, divided
2 large eggs
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/4 cup almonds or walnuts, chopped
Heat milk and butter until very warm, 120-130 degrees F. Mix yeast, salt, sugar, and 1 cup flour. Mix warm milk into yeast mixture. Beat for 2 minutes.
Add eggs and 1 more cup of flour. Beat 2 minutes. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again until doubled, another 1 hour. Divide dough in half.
Roll one piece of dough into a rope (apprx.30″ long and 1 1/2″ in diameter). Form a pretzel shape by forming a loop, crossing the length of dough and tucking the loose ends onto the large loop. Alternately, twist or braid the dough. Repeat with remaining dough.
Place pretzels on greased baking sheets. Let rise 15 minutes. Bake 375 degrees F, 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.
Mix powdered sugar, water and vanilla to form a thin icing. Spread on pretzels and sprinkle with chopped nuts.
What do you and your family do to celebrate the new year?
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