The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

New Year

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 2, pp. 433-34

"Alle that take hede to dysmal dayes, or use nyce observaunces in the newe moone, or in the new yere, as setting of mete or drynke, by nighte on the benehe, to fede Alholde or Gobelyn." — "Dives and Pauper," 1493. There is a proverb current in the North:

"At New Year’s tide,
The days lengthen a cock’s stride."

Comp. Hazlitt’s Proverbs 1882, p. 83. In Westmoreland and Cumberland, "early on the morning of the first of January, the Fæx Populi assemble together, carrying stangs and baskets. Any inhabitant, stranger, or whoever joins not this ruffian tribe in sacrificing to their favourite saint-day, if unfortunate enough to be met by any of the band, is immediately mounted across the stang (if a woman, she is basketed), and carried, shoulder height, to the nearest public-house, where the payment of sixpence immediately liberates the prisoner." "None, though ever so industriously inclined, are permitted to follow their respective avocations on that day." Gent. Mag. 1791, p. 1169. A strange custom still lingers in out-of-the-way country places in Herefordshire.

On New Year’s Day, very early in the morning, the farm boys go out and cut branches of the blackthorn, which they weave into a kind of globe of thorns, Then a large fire of straw is made in the farmyard, in which the globe of thorns is slightly burnt, while all the inmates of the farm stand, hand-in-hand, in a circle round the fire, shouting, in monotonous voice, the words "Old Cider," prolonging each syllable to its utmost extent. When the globe of thorns is slightly charred it is taken indoors and hung up in the kitchen, when it brings good luck for the rest of the year. No one seems to know the origin of the superstition, though probably the words "old cider" are a corruption of some much older words, probably an invocation to a heathen deity. Old people say that in their youth the practice was general in all country places in Herefordshire, and it was a pretty sight on New Year’s morning to see the fires burning all over the neighbourhood.

Another custom still in use is to take a particular kind of cake, and on New Year’s morning to bring a cow into the farmyard and place the cake on her head. The cow walks forward, tosses her head, and the cake falls, and the prosperity of the New Year is foretold from the direction of its fall. Daily Graphic, January 1, 1898. The globular form is given to fruit trees at the present day in the neighbourhood of Paris. A cherry-tree so trained is figured in the Royal Magazine for September, 1903.

Christie says: "The new year of the Persians was opened with agricultural ceremonies (as is also the case with the Chinese at the present day)." He adds: "The Athenians (says Plutarch) celebrated three sacred ploughings." "The Chinese ploughing took place on the first day of their solar new year, (the same ceremony is practised in Tunquin, Cochin China, and Siam), which, however, happened at an earlier season than with the Greeks, viz., when the sun entered the 15th degree of Aquarius; but the difference of season need not be objected to, since we have observed that similar rites were adopted by the antient Persians the beginning of whose year differed again from that of the Greeks and Chinese; but all these ceremonies may be presumed to have sprung from the same source. The Grecian ploughing was perhaps at first but a civil institution, although a mystical meaning was afterwards attached to it." Inquiry into the Ancient Greek Game, 1801, p. 136.

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