As we approach the turn of the year, people in many parts of the world are planning and preparing for their New Year’s Eve celebrations. Often these celebrations will include elements, the origins of which are centuries old. One we wish to look at here in particular, is the role of the ‘first-footer.’
Traditionally, New Year’s Eve is a time for offering hospitality to family, friends and strangers alike, in the form of warmth, shelter, food and drink. However, the ‘first footer’ is a visitor to the household who takes on a unique role.
The first person to enter after midnight, literally sets the first foot of the new year into that house. In order to ensure good luck, tradition states that this person should be male and possess dark hair. Though there will be male readers who will consider that having a blonde, female stranger appearing on their doorstep, who is seeking to come in for a drink and a kiss, to be anything but unfortunate. In addition, it is recommended that the first-footer be tall, young, virile, financially secure and have a warm and friendly nature. With these attributes in mind it is easy to wonder, that if the house contained a daughter of marriageable age, then perhaps it was hoped that the tall, dark, handsome stranger would become a permanent member of the household.
Nowadays it is rarely a stranger who is found in the role, instead it is usually a family member or neighbour and their job as first-footer is a pre-arranged one.
There is one attribute of the first footer that is an essential requirement, whoever is first to cross the threshold, they must not do so empty handed. The gifts that custom suggests the first-footer carries with them into the house are,
Food – bread or cake, or perhaps salt.
Drink – usually alcoholic, with whisky being the general choice.
Money – in the form of a coin, this however appears to be a later addition to the traditional list of gifts.
We can consider these gifts from a purely exoteric standpoint and see how they relate to the most basic of physical and emotional needs. The gifts represent the givers hope and desire, that the household will be adequately provided with these materials throughout the coming year.
The gift of coal is a wish that the household has enough fuel to provide warmth and shelter from the cold and rain.
The gift of food, simply hopes that the recipients will have enough to eat in the coming months. Salt contributes flavour as a condiment or cooking additive but more importantly, it is a preserver of food.
The gift of drink represents the wish that the householders will have times of joy and celebration, and perhaps more importantly that these times are shared with all the family and many friends, so that the social needs of the members of that household will be satisfied.
The gift of a coin is perhaps an obvious one, signifying the hope that throughout the coming year, the receiver will be prosperous enough to afford fuel, food and drink.
We can speculate upon some apparent similarities between these gifts and the wages of Freemasonry, the latter being not money, but corn, oil and wine. These ‘wages’ were considered to be the staples for bodily and emotional well being. The wealth of an individual or a society could be judged from the abundance of (or lack of) these products. These wages are obtained not for carrying out the duties of your usual job, but are provided as ‘payment’ for good deeds, acts of selflessness, charitable works, etc.
“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.”
We can see correlations between these wages and the gifts of the New Year’s Eve ‘first-footer.’ The ‘corn’ may be seen as representative of any cereal grain or staple crop, such as maize, wheat or barley. We can note that the foodstuffs offered on New Years Eve are most often derived from these, i.e. oatcakes, biscuits, sweet cake, etc.
There is an association between the oil and the coal. Olive oil served as a fuel for stoves and lamps and provided both heat and light. Both oil and coal tar have been used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
The wine which, ‘gladdens the heart’, has obvious parallels with the New Year drink, which requires no further explanation.
However it is also said, that in Masonry, that the mason receives these wages symbolically not materially. It is here that we see that the masonic wages and the gifts of New Year, can be viewed not just exoterically but esoterically. They are gifts on more than one level, meeting not only our physical/emotional requirements but also our spiritual and moral needs. Nourishing and refreshing both body and soul.
The corn/bread nourishes us in the form of our rituals, prayers and meditations and daily observances. As well as in the energy nourishment we provide to others in the form of healing and support.
It is the oil lamp which lights our way along our chosen spiritual path. The coal burning fire in the hearth is the flame of love in our heart, which warms the whole of our being.
The wine/New Year libation is the drink of communion. We commune, and thus celebrate, not just with our physical family and friends, but also with all of those who follow a spiritual path and engage in esoteric study and practice. Those of what we perceive to be the past, present or future, those who are with us in the physical world and those who are discarnate.
So if you have the chance to first foot on the night of New Year’s Eve, then embrace the opportunity. Keep in mind that your gifts on that night, and in the year to come, are not just symbolic of what we wish for the recipients materially but also what we wish for them spiritually.