Friday, January 3, 2014

The New Year and First Footin'

Mom and I were talking on the phone New Year's Day morning about the day's traditions amongst our ancestors. Mom was cooking the traditional pork and sour kraut that she loves. Our people are all from the hills of Western Maryland, and Maryland being a notoriously difficult state to categorize, North vs. South wise, there are still northerly traditions as well as southern ones, and some left over from the British Isles too. It's an interesting day because it is now a jumble of old and new traditions which, all in all, seems about right for a day that's all about the leaving of an old year and the start of a new one.

While she's busy making her pork, which is a southern tradition and a mainstay of Southern cooking but without the black-eyed peas and with more northern mashed potatoes, she's also looking for the first person in the door to be a dark handsome gentleman. That was Dad's roll in the family for many a year, but he's no longer with us. Now it's my brother. That tradition is called "First Foot" or locally, First Footin'.

I visited the Facebook page of the little town we're all from, Frostburg in Allegany County, named "You Know You're From Frostburg When..." and was delighted that there was a robust conversation going on about First Footin'. The first wave of posts verified how widespread the tradition was as many people told of moms, aunts, and grandmothers insisting that the first in the door after midnight be a dark haired handsome man.

Here's what one member of the group posted and that gave it a historical perspective:

Question: What is First Footing
As midnight strikes the strains of Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burn's version of this traditional Scottish air, can be heard everywhere, followed by a toast to health, wealth and happiness for the coming year and the custom o
f First Footing.
Answer: First-Footing is the visiting of friends and family immediately after midnight and sees the Scots rushing from house to house to welcome in the New Year. The First-Foot in the house traditionally is a dark, handsome male carrying a piece of coal, whisky, Scottish shortbread and black bun - a rich dark fruitcake encased in pastry. The visitor in return is given a small glass of whisky.

And here are some of the other posts and I especially like the last that places it in the Welsh tradition, which is the orientation in our family. Click on this to see a larger image.

Mom and I were chatting this morning and I read her some of the posts. Then we took a historical view of it. Coal miners came from Wales and Ireland to the Western Maryland area to work in the rich mines of the area. Actually and to be correct about it, the Irish came for work on the C&O canal  or the B&O railroad, and when that work ran out moved their skills on over to work in the mines. Once situated in the area, the Welsh and Scottish tradition of First Footing was adapted and adopted to the area and became rather widespread in the earlier part of the 20th Century. By the mid-20th Century, even Italian families were First Footin'. The dark haired man didn't bring whisky with him and the Scottish shortbread was left out too. As a matter of fact, he just brought his good looks and good luck!
Here's wishing you and yours lots of good luck on the New Year!

Dad, always ready to be the first dark haired man in the door on New Year's Day.


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