New Year’s Eve Rocked the Victorian Era. From the Victorian Era’s version of First-Foot superstitions on New Year’s Eve to speed dating on New Year’s Day, we can thank Queen Victoria for many of our Christmas and New Year’s traditions.
Queen Victoria had a passion for the New Year’s Eve celebration of Hogmanay, which means the last day of the year. While it is a Scottish tradition, the origins are most likely Norse or Gaelic. As with most celebrations, the customs vary from one area to another. Gift-giving and special attention to the “First-Footing” were critical to New Year’s Eve in the Victorian Era, as they are today.
“First Footing” literally means the first foot to cross your threshold after midnight. That person should bring a gift of bread, salt, coal, whisky, food or greenery to ensure a prosperous and healthy year ahead. (Jewelry works too.)
In addition to bringing an appropriate gift, there’s one more thing to guarantee a prosperous year. That first-footer should be great looking. Traditionally, tall, dark men were preferred as the first-foot while blondes (Nordic invaders?) were generally considered bad luck.
Customs and superstitions around the First-Foot visitor were collected in Folklore Magazine. The “who was hot and who was not” results were summarized in a table by John Rhys and T.W.E. Higgins in the June 1892 edition. It was difficult to make the “hot” list, so all we can say is thank goodness for wigs, hair dye and stiletto heels.
Thanks to Queen Victoria, pets, particularly dogs, were invited into the home and considered important members of the family. We wonder if a First-Paw could be considered the best luck of all on New Year’s Eve.
Traditional New Year’s superstitions and customs abound. Among the dos and don’ts:
“Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots poem by Robert Burns, but based on earlier traditional versions. The Hogmanay custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” is common in many countries, just as it was in the Victorian Era. The true Scottish custom is sing in a circle and to link arms for the final stanza, as the lyrics direct.
Many people of the Victorian Era saved their celebrations for New Year’s Day. Early on in the Victorian Era, this was the day for gift giving, feasts and visits to family and friends. Everyone wore their finest clothes for the occasion.
According to Sunny O’Neil in The Gift of Christmas Past: A Return to Victorian Traditions, people of the Victorian Era also used New Year’s day to wipe out their social obligations from the previous year. Wealthy people opened their mansions to visitors, offering huge spreads of food and drink.
For young people, New Year’s Day was a time for “calling.” Women and boys up to age 10 stayed home, while gentleman and eligible bachelors visited houses. Some gentlemen would visit between 30 and 100 houses on New Year’s Day. Of course, they would be obliged to have a drink at each house.
Eligible bachelors would leave their calling cards to show that they had visited. Was this the equivalent of leaving a text message after a speed dating event?
Happy New Year From
Racing Nellie Bly
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