An essential part of New Year’s Eve for many people, First Footing has its origins in Scotland’s great Hogmany festival.
One of the great traditions of New Year’s Eve in Britain is to go First Footing. In the days when most people lived in small towns and villages, this meant going round to visit your friends for the first time in the New Year. It was a great honour to be the first house to be visited and competition could be strong to be the first through the doors of popular houses soon after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Partying and mutual visiting then carried on from midnight until dawn, or until tiredness overwhelmed the revellers.
Soon superstitions grew up about the custom. It was said that the first person to First Foot a house would determine the luck of the house for the coming year. Householders therefore began to arrange who would be the first over their threshold. A tall, dark handsome man in full health was preferred, and if he carried a lump of coal all the better.
These days, when many people live well beyond walking distance of their family and friends, the custom has changed. The party tends to start much earlier in the evening, as people gather ready for midnight. The chimes of Big Ben in London are broadcast on radio and television to mark midnight and the traditional Scottish song of remembrance Auld Lang Syne is sung. Only then does the designated First Footer arrive, often having slipped way from the party just before midnight, The party then continues, but without the roaming from house to house of former years.