Traditionally at Hogmanay we first-foot, though it doesn't happen so much these days. What used to happen was that shortly after "the bells" (that's midnight to the rest of you) friends and neighbours would visit each other, bearing gifts. The first person over your threshold in the new year was your first-footer. It was considered lucky if he was tall and dark. Traditions vary locally but in my area, the first-footer would bring you a lump of coal to wish you warmth, shortbread or black bun to wish you food and , of course, a bottle of whisky to wish you - well, plenty to drink I suppose! You would take a drink from his bottle and then he would have a drink from yours and so the party would begin. It was not uncommon for that group then to move on to the next house in order to first-foot them and onwards and onwards, often well into the next day.
Since the Golfer died, my Hogmanays are rather quiet and, to be honest, I prefer it that way. I never saw the appeal of ruining the beginning of a brand new year with a horrendous hangover and sleep deprivation. Now that I am no longer expected to party I bring in the New Year very gently - watch the daft programmes on the telly for a while, then come through here to think about the Golfer and how my year has gone - another year without him. I have a glass of something warming. I don't need to have the radio on to hear when midnight comes - my neighbour always fires his shotgun to welcome the new year (you get used to it!). Then I go and stand outside and breathe the air and, if it's a clear night, look up at Orion striding across the southern sky. I feel very small and very connected.
I've quoted passages from Wendy Wood's book here every month since I began this blog. It was her passage for Hogmanay that first grabbed my attention. When I first came to live in the country I was lonely and isolated. I missed the companionship of the town, especially in the dark nights of winter. But she showed me that being in the country could be special too and now that I live alone, I find myself bringing in the new year in much the same way that she did.
"Hogmanay! I turned on the wireless and listened to the habble of excited crowds milling round in a city square and I turned it off again to hear the silence. The clock ticked into it irrevocably, like drops of water wearing the year away. The kettle hummed and was silent again, as if regretting its momentary conversation. It was five minutes to twelve.I opened the door to let the old year go, and stepped towards the loch. The black water was like a dish of stars stirred with a giant's spurtle. It lapped with a crisp sound as if it were more alive than usual, yet no breath of wind disturbed the air. The woods that arise abruptly above my little cottage were obviously waiting, with a million twig-hands upheld to receive unquestioningly what the new year might bring. A lone oyster-catcher gave a sharp disturbing cry.
Again there was silence except for the gentle swish of the water, but something moved. At first I could neither identify nor locate the sound, then I realised that it came from a bunch of bracken on the mound beside me, and I knew who it would be. I tried to be as completely immobile as the rock on which I sat; then I saw her, the roe deer who brings her Bambi every spring to drink at my well. The moon outlined her slight form, her delicate little head turned in my direction, but she did not flee; she stood there expressing faith in our mutual kindliness. I wonder if she too feels the drama of the turning year?
A cloud passed over the face of the moon and when I looked again she had disappeared. Somehow she had given the night a legendary quality, as if the black Morvern hills remembered the hind that was the mother of Ossian. I felt suddenly small in the immensity of the night, in the infinity of history, on a star among stars in the profundity of space. The doe and I were insignificant atoms suspended in wide, deep, peace. A breeze ran up the loch, the trees whispered, and right across the firmament, like a finger drawn across a darkened pane, a meteor streaked. So came the new year to the western Highlands."
Happy New Year to you all and let's hope for a peaceful 2008.