No matter whether the old year had been kind to folk or if it was one best forgotten they have always celebrated the transition from one year to the next. Many of the customs and traditions have centred around either attracting good fortune for the coming year or not doing anything that may tempt fate and bring about bad luck.
A strong tradition on Dartmoor was that on New Year’s Eve as the time approached midnight the folk would sit in a darkened room with all forms of lighting extinguished. Nobody would utter a word until the twelfth stroke of midnight rung out. Then all the windows and doors would be flung open in anticipation of the ‘first comer’ of the New Year. Should the first comer be dark haired or with a swarthy complexion this would mean good luck for the next twelve months. But should they be fair haired or pale then they brought bad luck to the household for the whole of the year. One would presume that anyone of this description stayed safely at home out of harms way?
The other version of this practice and one which is still practiced today is that the ‘first comer’ brought a small gift with them. In many cases the gift would be something simple like a lump of coal or peat to ensure the house is always heated, a small piece of bread to ensure food would be plentiful and some greenery to ensure good health.
To be certain of a prosperous year people would walk out of their houses as soon as the New Year had begun holding some coins in their left hands. After a short stroll they would change the money into their right hands and return back inside. The idea of this being that money would continue to come into the household for the next 365 days.
If a woman wanted to know what sort of husband she would marry then all she had to do was pour some molten lead into a glass of water on New Year’s Eve. If the drops of lead formed a hammer-like shape then he would be a blacksmith or carpenter, if scissors then a tailor, if an animal a farmer and so on and so forth.
Apples always played a big part in Devonshire life, mainly due to the fact that they produced the year’s cider. So to ensure a good crop there was a tradition known as ‘Apple Howling‘ which in a way was akin to wassailing. Groups of young boys would assemble in an orchard on New Year’s Eve and at the top of their voices recite the following; “Stand fast root, bear well top, Pray God send us a howling crop; Every twig apples big; Every bow, apples avow; Hats full, caps full, Four quarter sacks full.”
Should anyone want a foretaste of what the News Year had in store for them they simply had to sit under a sprig of holly and place a bible on their knees on New Year’s Eve. With eyes closed the bible would be opened at a random page and the first chapter read out. Whatever it stated would be an indication of events to come.
In those parish churches that still have a peal of bells these have for centuries been used to ring in the New Year. The basic idea is that their peels announce to all that the coming of the year is about to happen and herald it in with chimes of hope. Below are some words penned by Alfred Tennyson which sums up the ideals of the chiming bells.
|Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying clouds, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new;
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
|Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
The latest craze is for fireworks to be lit just after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Incidentally the Firework Regulations of 2004 prohibits the use of fireworks between the 11pm and 7am except for the following occasions: until 1am on the day following 31 December. So anyone sending rockets skyward after then are breaking the law. The other modern-day fad is the lighting of Chinese Sky Lanterns, a practice which many are trying to get banned due to the mayhem and injuries they cause when landing.
Paying bills on New Year’s Day was considered lucky as it would ensure that any monies owed during the coming year would be promptly paid back.
There was a strong belief that clothes should never be washed on New Year’s Day because to do so would mean that somebody would be ‘washed’ out of the house and never return. Similarly no ashes were to be thrown out from the grate, no dust swept out of the house or water tipped away as good luck would follow them. There was an overider to this belief insomuch as if you brought something into the house before taking anything out then that would be OK. An old rhyme went; “Take out, then take in, Bad luck will begin. Take in, then take out, good luck comes about.“
An old tradition observed by some people was for the husband to give some money to his wife on New Year’s Day in order to by the coming year’s supply of pins which is where the term ‘pin money’ comes from.
There was also the belief that any businessman or woman should start their new account books on New Year’s Day, the theory being that ‘a good beginning makes for a good ending’.
A fairly recent New Year’s Day tradition is the annual Fur Tor Pilgrimage where groups of hardy walkers all assemble on Fur Tor for a brief celebration. In more recent years and alternative gathering takes place on the smaller and easier to reach Fur Tor on Walkhampton Common.
|Yes, yes, it’s very true, and very clear!
By way of compliment and common chat,
It’s very well to wish me a New Year;
But wish me a new hat!
Although not spent in luxury and ease,
Nay, while new things and wishes are afloat,
|Oh yes, ’tis very pleasant, tho’ I’m poor,
To hear the steeple make merry din;
Except I wish one bell was at the door,
To ring new trousers in.
To be alive is very nice indeed,
Yes, yes, it’s very true, and very clear!
If New Year’s Eve night wind blow south, It betokeneth warmth and growth.
If the old year goes out like a lion, the new year will come in like a lamb.
Of course there is one last New Year’s tradition and that is the infamous ‘resolution’ whereby people vow to change some of their ways in favour of a better year ahead – see HERE.