The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

New Year's Eve and Day

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. 434-35

New Year's Eve — The Nidderdale people still adhere to the practice of running round the house on this anniversary. Comp. Lucas's Studies in Hidderdale.

    Editor's Note: Concerning Nidderdale, its landscape and history, see Nidderdale.org.

New Year's Day — "It seems it was a custom at Rome, upon New Year’s Day, for all tradesmen to work a little in their business by way of omen; for luck’s sake, as we say, that they might have constant business all the year after." Massey’s Notes on Ovid’s Fasti, p. 14. Prynne, in his "Histriomastix," 1633, did not fail to detect a close correspondence between the practices on New Year’s Day in his time and the ancient pagan festivals, and, alluded to the prohibition published against the latter by the Catholic Church, as a hint to the English government that it should "go and do likewise." In "Vox Graculi," 1623, p. 40, is the following, under January:

This month you drink no wine cornmixt with dregs;
Eate capons, and fat hens, with dumpling legs.

"The first day of January being raw, colde, and comfortlesse to such as have lost their money at dice at one of the Temples overnight, strange apparitions are like to be seen: Marchpanes marching betwixt Leaden-hall and the little Conduit in Cheape, in such aboundance that an hundred good fellowes may sooner starve then catch a corner, or a comfit to sweeten their mouthes. It is also to be feared, that through frailty, if a slip be made on the messenger’s default that carries them, for non-delivery at the place appointed; that unlesse the said messenger be not the more inward with is mistris, his master will give him rib-rost for his New Yeares Gift the next morning. This day shall be given many more gifts then shall be asked for, and apples, egges, and orenges, shall be lifted to a lofty rate; when a pome-water bestucke with a few rotten cloves, shall be more worth than the honesty of an hypocrite; and halfe a dozen of egges of more estimation than the vowes of a strumpet. Poets this day shall get mightily by their pamphlets. for an hundred of elaborate lines shall be lease esteemed in London, then an hundred of Walfleet oysters at Cambridge."

"The King of light, father of aged time
Hath brought about that day which is the prime
To the slow gliding months, when every eye
Wears symptoms of a sober jollity;
And every hand is ready to present
Some service in a real compliment.
Whilst some in golden letters write their love,
Some speak affection by a ring or glove,
Or pins and points (for ev’n the peasant may,
After his ruder fashion be as gay
As the brisk courtly Sir), and thinks that he
Cannot, without gross absurdity
Be this day frugal, and not spare his friend
Some gift, to shew his love finds not an end
With the deceased year."
—Poole’s English Parnassus, 1657.

Hutchinson, speaking of the parish of Muncaster, under the head of "Ancient Custom," informs us: "On the eve of the New Year, the children go from house to house, singing a ditty which craves the bounty ‘they were wont to have in old King Edward’s days.’" History of Cumberland, i., 570. There is no tradition whence this custom rose; the donation is two-pence, or a pye at every house. The following passage from Lockhart’s Life of Scott under 1819, seems to be worth a place here: "In the next of these letters (one to Joanna Baillie), Scott alludes among other things to a scene of innocent pleasure, which I often witnessed afterwards. The whole of the ancient ceremonial of the daft days, as they are called in Scotland, obtained respect at Abbotsford. He said it was uncanny, and would certainly have felt it very uncomfortable, not to welcome the new year in the midst of his family and a few old friends, with the immemorial libation of a het pint." And it seems from the "Popish Kingdome" of Naogeorgus, that in Germany during the New Year’s week debtors were left unmolested, and people kept high revelry "according to the auncient guise of heathen people vaine, and wished each other a happy new year."

New Year's Day, Scotland — The keen loyalty with which New Year's Day is observed in Edinburgh itself, to the present moment, was quite recently illustrated (1904) by the complete absence, on the arrival at Waverly Station of the London express, of porters and cabs, and a noble lord found it necessary to make his way to his hotel in a milk-cart.

Editor's Note: See William Hone's The Every Day Book: January 1 - New Year's Day.

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