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New Year's Traditions & Superstitions of Britain & Ireland


In my house, when the clock strikes midnight, the back door is flung open and then with a dash my husband races to the front door, to let the old year with any lingering bad luck blow out, and the New Year blow in.

But what other traditions and superstitions are observed around New Year? There are plenty to be found around Britain and Ireland!


Preventing Bad Luck

1. Never do your laundry on New Year's Day

You'll wash the good luck away. But that's no problem, you're wearing new clothing anyway, right?

2. Don't eat chicken on New Year's Day
It'll bring poverty in the coming year.

3. Debts
Speaking of poverty, it is believed by some that any debts from the previous year should be paid off before 1st January to ensure a prosperous coming year. Avoid lending money or paying anything off on 1st January itself, or you'll be paying things off for the rest of the year!

4. No dusting!
You'll brush all that sparkling New Year's good luck away! And seriously, who wants to be doing housework after a night of partying?

5. No crying please
Cry on New Year's Day, and you'll have a miserable time for the rest of the year.

6. Cats
Where would this list of superstitions be without a cat reference somewhere? If you hear a cat yowling during your New Year's Day promenade, be sure to turn around and head the other way. To continue would just be running into trouble.


To Encourage Good Luck

1. Wear new clothing
Greet the New Year looking good to ensure that you look and feel your best throughout the coming year, by wearing some new clothing on New Year's Day. Even if it is just that pair of socks your aunty Flo got you for Christmas.

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2. Lemons
When life gives you lemons, you cut them into slices and hang them from string over the front door. This is believed to keep evil spirits out!

3. Big portions
Eve Oiche na Coda Moire, or "Night of the Big Portion" is celebrated by some households in Ireland. There is a tradition of baking large cakes and then smashing them into pieces on New Year's Eve before eating the crumbs, to ensure a year of plenty. Buttered bread is sometimes left outside the front door overnight for the fairies, or gifted to neighbours. To follow such practices will ensure your cupboards are never empty over the coming year.

4. Start as you mean to go on
The Welsh are a stoic lot, and some believe that however you conduct yourself and your emotions on New Year's Day will follow through with you for the rest of the year. So arguments are meant to be avoided!

5. De-clutter!
By cleaning the house and removing all of the old tat and junk, you'll ensure harmony and a sense of orderliness throughout the year to come. Remember to get that dusting done before New Year's Day though...

6. See in the New Year with a bang!
We're all familiar with fireworks, but banging pots and pans, blowing whistles, and making an outright din are said to drive evil spirits away and bring harmony into the home.



This seems to appear throughout Great Britain, and helps ensure luck to the household for the coming year. This relies on who the first visitor is after the clock strikes midnight. Although the person who places the first-foot into the house may be a resident of the house, the rule is that they mustn't be inside the house before midnight itself.

In Northern England and Scotland, the first-foot is the first person to enter the home on New Year's Day. It is desirable that they are dark haired and tall in order to bring good luck to the home, but should they be red-headed then bad fortune will follow. (Sorry redheads, I personally love the colour!) They're not so fussy in Yorkshire; the first footer can have any colour hair at all, but the first-footer must be male.

This is also practiced on the Isle of Man, which is located off the coast of North East England, where they call it qualtagh in Manx Gaelic.

In Worcestershire, one of England's inner counties, the first carol singer spotted is grabbed and pulled through the house to bring good luck to the household. It's hardly any wonder we don't see many carol singers in these parts after Christmas any more!

Depending on family customs, the first-footer brings with him gifts that have specific blessings attached:

  • Bread, so that there is always food in the house;
  • Salt, so that it may be flavoured;
  • Coal, to bring warmth to the home;
  • A silver coin, to bring financial prosperity;
  • Fronds of evergreen, to bless the householders with long life;
  • And drink, to bring good cheer!

An interesting tradition, it is not certain where the origins may have come from. However, there is a similar practice in Sweden which hints that it might have been settlers from this northern land that brought the custom with them when they went a'viking. It could also have origins from Roman and Greek practices, being a relic from the old festival of Saturnalia.


Happy New Year!

Well there you have it; a few superstitions that are observed as part of the New Year celebrations. Do you have any that you follow where you are? I'd love to hear about them, so please share them in the comments.


© 2018 Pollyanna Jones

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