Picking up a dropped thread...or 2
- Earlier we were talking about the fact that, to bring good luck, the
first person across the threshold on new Year's Day had to be a male (at
our house too). Someone mentioned that it was preferable for him to be
Yesterday, on the way home, I was reading the Sunday comics and glanced
at the Kids' Page. They had a little piece on the ways different
countries celebrate New Year's. Here's the paragraph on Scotland:
"The Scots celebrate 'Hogmanay' with the tradition of 'first footing.'
To ensure good luck for the house, the person who sets the first foot
over the threshold after midnight is traditionally male, dark-haired
(believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers
arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and carries symbolic items such
as coal, shortbread, salt, and bread."
So could there be a connection????????
I finally looked in "Slovakia: European Contexts of the Folk Culture"
[terrific source, but the English can get quite funky] to see what it
has to say about the first visitor on NY's. This is somewhat in
relation to carolling (that went on throughout the Christmas-NY's
"One special form of carolling is represented by 'polazovanie,' spread
not only in Slovakia, but also in Poland, Ukraine, Eastern Moravia,
Serbia, and Croatia. Its essence is in the arrival of the first male
visitor to the house during the so-called 'polazujuce' days, when the
ritual prohibition for a woman to enter a foreign house as the first
one, is in effect. This is connected to [the] magic of beginning, on
which, according to superstitious concepts, the happiness or unhappiness
of a family was based. Also through this ritual act we can read out
concepts of woman under the folk belief. [The] 'polaznik' should come
early [in the] morning, almost when [it is] still dark, and keep certain
rules. Firstly, he should be a healthy, young, nicely dressed boy in a
growing up period of age....
"To the first visitor was ascribed importance in all European
countries, mainly on New Year's Eve. In areas of Catholic and Orthodox
rite[s], it was demanded on the Lord's Birth, or New Year's Eve, that
the first visitor should be of the male sex, young, and handsome. In
Protestant countries sex was not as important, but youth and beauty were
Here's what the same book has to say about Christmas trees and gift
giving, as a follow-up to Martin's email:
"The decorated Christmas tree with lights of the new age, had mainly
aesthetical functions. It is a product of urban culture. The German
origin of the Christmas tree is also apparent due to the fact that it
first became common in towns with a numerous German population and among
the Protestant citizen's levels. It became a central point of commonly
celebrated festivals, and therefore in a short time, it also spread to
inns, schools, orphanages, hospitals, in connection with charity
"It penetrated gradually into the peasant environment of Slovakia, in a
direction from the west to the east, from the end of the 19th century.
In NE Slovakia, the tree became generally widespread only after WWII.
Together with the penetration of town patterns, its decorativeness also
grew. During the 20th century, people started to put presents under the
tree, at the beginning only for children. The lightened, large, and
fully decorated tree became a symbol, around which a sacred liturgical
program had developed. Children used to write letters to the baby
Jesus, for presents, parents secretly decorated the tree. Among the
Catholic families, the tree used to be after the New Year, sacred by
priest in relation to Christian learning, that it is a present from
little Jesus. [Does this mean that the priest blessed it after NY'sD?]
Until that time, it also has to stay untouched, this means, that sweets
must not be eaten off it.
"Under the traditional culture, Christmas presents as a recent
understanding, were not known. It spread only in connection with the
Christmas tree. Traditional presents were in the form of a wish, song,
and it used to be paid for by fruits, cakes, to shepherds by podders,
grain. Presents have represented until the present time, a cultural
phenomenon and a means for making people's relationships, their
cultivation and strengthening."