In Scotland, there are many unique customs associated with the New Year. These form the Scottish celebration Hogmanay—the Scots name for New Year’s Eve. The street party in Princes Street in Edinburgh is one famous example.
There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests.
This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall, dark men are preferred as the first-foot.
In Scottish folklore, the first-foot is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day and a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.
Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing).
It is said to be desirable for the first-foot to be a tall, dark-haired male. A female or fair-haired male are in some places regarded as unlucky.
The first-foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin (silver is considered good luck), bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whiskey), which represent financial prosperity, food, flavor, warmth, and good cheer respectively.
Just before I went to the ACS Conference in Baltimore, we found out that Tom’s youngest brother, Bill had died, which was a major shock to all of us. He’d had Polycystic Kidney Disease and been on dialysis for quite a while. He decided to go for a kidney transplant so he could spend more quality time with his grandchildren.
Tom and I decided I should go to the conference anyway and we’d drive to Boston when that was over.
At noon, I was waiting in the lobby of the hotel and Tom called. My ringtone is Scotland the Brave and the woman waiting near me couldn’t miss the bagpipes. She said her dad had been a pipe major. Small world!
Tom rented a big black SUV and, when he drove up to the hotel to pick me up, he was told he had to stand (park) elsewhere with the other Uber drivers. LOL
It took a little while to get used to this big, different car. The first day, I accidentally called OnStar once and had to convince them that there was no emergency – and they called me on my phone. I guess if it was a really emergency, that would be great but it was a little scary. The OnStar button was very easy to hit – it was directly on the rearview mirror so when we adjusted the mirror, OnStar was called.
We stopped at a Bagel place in Baltimore then headed out to Boston while Michael took the train from NYC. We both turned on our iPhone location services so we could all keep track of who was there.
Lots of memories driving into Boston. One I’ll never forget. It’s a Shaw’s grocery store now but it used to be a hotel in Newton. And it’s built straddling the Mass Pike. And, it used to have many more floors.
When Michael was very young we stayed at this hotel, probably Howard Johnsons, over New Year’s weekend. Tom was out visiting a college buddy and, around midnight, someone had some “fun” setting off the fire alarm. Of course, I couldn’t find Michael’s shoes, so I picked him up and carried him down about 1o or so flights of stairs, into the snow.
Ever after, we have had a “Shoes by the Door” rule, especially in hotels!
Construction began in May of 1969 on Newton which included a Motor Lodge, Red Coach Grill and Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. Plans called for a 12-story lodge with 271 rooms on the third through twelfth floors. Moreover the lobby featured 2-stories with a mezzanine floor for conference rooms. ~ from http://www.highwayhost.org/Massachusetts/Boston/Newton/newton1.html
And today, which brought the flood of memories:
Getting close to Boston, we could see the Citgo Sign in Kenmore Square.
I was always very proud of my paternal grandmother.
In the early part of the last century she had been living in Scotland with her husband and they had a young son – my father.
My grandfather was in the Black Watch during World War I, and he was killed in Peshawar, India.
My grandmother left her life and family in Scotland and sailed to the United States with my dad when he was only 5. We have pictures of him disembarking in his little kilt!
I cannot imagine having her courage, leaving home with a small child, and starting life anew in a completely foreign country.
Many years later, when I was a freshman in college, my grandmother died the week before Christmas.
I remember sitting in Waterman’s Funeral Home in Kenmore Square, Boston watching the Citgo sign cycle through its neon pattern. No one but our very small family attended her calling hours.
The funeral was a bit better. A few folks took the time to honor this brave woman.
A week later, we celebrated Christmas “because that’s what Nana would have wanted”. Even then, I thought that she probably would have liked to see more caring people around her, while she was alive.
The current beacon on Beacon Street is the giant Citgo Sign. It has been a Boston landmark since 1940. The sign had originally said Cities Service, and was changed to the new logo in 1965 (with nearly 6,000 neon bulbs added). The sign is visible from great distances on both sides of the Charles River, especially as one approaches the city from the west…
Meanwhile, Michael was already in Boston and he took the T (subway) to our AirBnB in Savin Hill and got Chinese food. He saw us arrive and try to park on the narrow, hilly street outside and came out to help us bring in the luggage.
It was an adorable place and I especially loved this reading chair.
The AirBnb was on Grampian Way and we stayed near the Grampian Mountains in Scotland last year. Small world!
Saturday, June 4
Saturday was a busy day. First up were the calling hours, where we saw friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in years. Michael hadn’t seen some of them since he was a young child. The funeral home parking attendant informed me that our SUV wasn’t black, but some exotic shade like granite. Fine.
We all drove to the Funeral at St. Anthony’s Church in Everett. It was a very touching, emotional service for everyone. When we left, the funeral home disbursed bottle of water to everyone…and left. There was no procession to a cemetery or anywhere.
We got maps to the Casa Lucia restaurant West Revere and a whole line of people followed behind us. Luckily, we didn’t get lost! The hall was upstairs, though, and my knee gave me a bit of trouble 🙁
After a very nice Italian buffet, one of Bill’s doctors (who had been sitting at our table) got up front and told us about how Bill had worked with medical students at Harvard for over 20 years, telling the patient side of Polycystic Kidney Disease. He had slides prepared and was very helpful with the hundreds of students he’d reached.
Michael said that he had to get back to New York to finish up some work so we left the restaurant and headed back to the AirBnb for his stuff, then to North Station for Amtrak.
On the way back, we stopped at the beach near South Boston. It was a chilly day but lots of folks were out enjoying the sun. Lots of memories there, too!
Off to the Stop and Shop to get something for dinner and snacks for the road then…nap finally.
Sunday, June 5
When we were leaving, there were lots of police around and they were closing off streets. Turns out it was the Dorchester Day Parade. Who knew there was such a day? Apparently, many people. This was the 112th parade, 53rd Continuous Parade since 1963.
I can’t find a video (yet) for 2016 but this is from last year.
On the way home there was pouring rain in New Jersey so we got home very late.