The bread, the coal, the coin, and whisky

Submitted into Contest #22 in response to: Write a short story about someone with unconventional New Year's traditions.... view prompt



New Year’s celebrations are a big tradition in the UK. There are a lot of house parties. Families and friends get together to welcome it in, and hope the New Year coming will be better than the one we leave behind. My family and I flew home often at Christmas to spend the holidays with my gran and all my relatives. This was my favourite time of the year knowing I would get to see my loved ones for three weeks and catch up with them.

Our family is from the Liverpool area. Our plane would take us from Toronto to Manchester, and then we would make our way to Liverpool. My gran lived in a city not far from Liverpool called St. Helen’s. We stayed at my granny’s house. I had cousins just a few doors down, it was great. Fun times were had; we would all take the bus into town to do our shopping, some sightseeing, but mostly enjoy the time with the family. My gran’s house was always full of aunts and cousins. I will explain the unique New Year’s Eve tradition we have. It is called one-footing.

What is one-footing you ask? People in Scotland and parts of England have this yearly New Years' Eve tradition. It has been passed down through family members throughout the generations.  The purpose of this is to bring health, wealth and warmth to the family for the year. Each family has performed this ritual across the United Kingdom.

The family looks around to see which male has the darkest hair or the darkest complexion. Whoever is the chosen one, they are then the footer. The "first footing" is a tradition celebrated on Hogmanay, which is traditionally a Scottish New Year's celebration, but England has adopted it as well. Hogmanay is the name for New Year, traditionally the eating and drinking of haggis and whisky. If it is a male that is already inside the home chosen, they are to go outside via the back door.

This male walks around to the front door bearing a coin, a lump of coal, a piece of bread and a drink, which in Scotland would be a glass of whisky. England could be a lager or a glass of brandy or gin. A few minutes before midnight, the male is standing outside the front door. At about 10 seconds to midnight, this male knocks on the front door. At the stroke of midnight, someone inside the home is to open the door, see the male with the items he has in his hands, and welcome him inside. Only then when he crosses the threshold and is welcomed by all inside does it count. If you turn this footer away, the belief is bad luck, health etc., for the year.

The family then shares their drinks and goodies with this male. As you can probably guess by now, the coal is for warmth, and it also symbolizes the coal mining. The bread is for food all year. Auld Lang Syne is then sung by everyone and the traditional New Year’s kiss.

Many, many families perform this ritual. When I was a child going back for Christmas with our family, we would do this. My dad had dark brown hair, so he was usually the one chosen to do this. We’d run outside and get a lump of coal out of gran’s coal shed, put it on a piece of bread and look around for a coin. Dad would go out the side/back door and walk around to the front. At twelve he would knock on the door, usually my aunty Brenda would open it and let dad in.

It is not imperative that you do this every year. I know many years of family has not done it, but it is a tradition. As soon as this was done, old Lang syne sung, we kids would kiss everyone and call it a night. The adults would stay up drinking, singing and laughing until they were tired enough to go to sleep.

Gaynor Jones

December 28, 2019 01:05

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Sam Kirk
04:00 Jan 07, 2020

Pretty neat. It reads like a true story. Is it?


Gaynor Jones
19:14 Jan 07, 2020

Why thank you, Kirk. Yes, my family and I have done this in the past. It is a British NY's Eve tradition.


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Jamie Shaw
03:02 Jan 09, 2020

How interesting; thank you for sharing your family tradition.


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