Thursday, December 31, 2009

First Footing in Second Life Present and Real Life Past

There is a wonderful New Year's tradition in Scotland called "First Footing". It's not exclusive to Scotland mind you, but the Scottish traditions are the ones I was raised on and so those are the ones I follow. There are various components to a First Footer's toolkit, but the basics are this:

  • The first person across your threshold in the New Year signals good or bad luck for the coming year. A tall, dark, handsome man bearing the appropriate gift will signal good luck.
  • The gift is for the household and traditionally the gift is coin (for prosperity), bread (for food), salt (for flavour), coal (for warmth) or whiskey (for good cheer). Whatever the history of the Hogmanay please believe me when I tell you that whiskey is always appropriate. :)

60 years ago tonight my Grandmother and Grandfather were spending their first New Year's Eve in the city of Vancouver, BC. They had recently moved there to be closer to their only child however this meant leaving all of their friends and neighbours behind.

My Grandmother was born and raised in Scotland and emigrated to Canada at the age of 18. She married a man from Darlington (although most people forgave her for this) and they settled in Fort William, Ontario. They lived in a community of Scottish immigrants and maintained the traditions she knew from the old country.

On this night they were feeling quite alone and unhappy because New Year's was a very big deal to them but they couldn't celebrate it as they were accustomed without the people they felt close to. Unbeknownst to them, about 2 miles away was (and is) the Seaforth Armoury, home to the Regimental Headquarters of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

The Regiment had a large New Year's Eve party that night and a bit of whiskey may have been consumed. After midnight the party started to break up and a couple of officers decided to walk home (well they weren't feeling the cold I assure you). After walking for a time they split up and one continued on his way.

Around about 1:00 am he had a sudden stroke of genius. It was New Year's Day. He was tall, dark and considered handsome and he just happened to have a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He decided to First Foot somebody. This officer didn't know anybody on the street but he didn't think that was a problem. He chose the first house with the lights shining in the windows, went up to the door and knocked.


Since I'm telling this story, you've probably figured out who was in this particular house. My grandparents heard the knock at the door and went to see who it was. Through the glass in the door my Scottish Grandmother saw a tall, dark Seaforth Highlanders officer in full regalia clutching a bottle of whiskey.


They welcomed him inside, shared a drink and then waved goodbye wishing him a safe journey. They never forgot that night and the wonderful gift of feeling at home they had received.


The lesson our family learned from this is that what you consider a small kindness to a stranger may be much more important to them than you will ever realize. Fate or serendipity may play a hand, but we are the instruments.

The other lesson we learned, of course, is that being Scottish on New Year's Eve is one of the truly great blessings in any life. :)

I wish you all a First Foot by a tall, dark handsome man. I wish you all a New Year filled with prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer. Most of all, I wish you all a New Year filled with showing kindness to strangers in Second Life and Real Life. You will be repaid in countless ways.

A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see






Notes:

  • The uniform worn in these pictures is a very, very, very rough approximation of the uniform worn by the Seaforth Highlanders. My apologies to all military experts and all members of the Regiment!
  • Ahuva Heliosense gets credit for finding me a label and a whiskey bottle (and Dale Innis gets credit for making the bottle). She also found me the street for my Highlander photos. I consider this opportunity to teach her another tradition to be my repayment. :)

7 comments:

Pam Ribble said...

What a lovely story to start the new year! Thank you for sharing this, I've directed a few friends here too.

Lauren said...

I'm scottish from my Grandmother's side. But I really thought you were going to say your grandmother saw him and had a one night stand.. (joking..don't hate me...i couldn't help it)

ahuva18 said...

What an absolutely lovely story!!! I am so very happy for your grandparents that things turned out that way. *smile* sometimes life is very good indeed.

I love the custom. I'll see if I can get my (Irish) husband, who is tall, dark and handsome, to go knock on a door with an appropriate gift.

As you know - I also have found that someone doing what they considered a small, inconsequential act changed my life around completely. You never know how far a little kindness goes.

SeanMcPherson Senior said...

Hah! I do this almost every year, even tho at 5'9" I'm not really tall. I'm always at my brother's for Christmas Eve if possible and right after the ball drops I run out to the car and bring in a bottle of bourbon. I'm of scottish descent, I'm male, I have dark hear, and what the heck, *historically* speaking 5'9" is tall for scotland :P Lots of people don't understand the significange but those who do appreciate it. I may go this year in full kilt, if I feel like risking it to drunken revelry. Maybe a semi-formal one will do?

Cristopher Lefavre said...

Honour,

Great tradition and Great storytelling; I had never heard of First Footing before! Thanks for sharing it and for all the nice uniform and photo work!

Happy New Year, and I hope you get a nice first footing in both lives:-)

Honour McMillan said...

Happy New Year to all of you and thank you for the lovely comments.

um @Sean :) Unfortunately there aren't a lot of tall Scots so being dark and handsome counts BUT you must leave the house before the ball drops for it to be official. You can't be in there when midnight arrives and still be the First Footer - leave a couple of minutes early and then do it and yes I think you should wear your kilt. :)

Joonie said...

Honour, thanks for sharing a part of who you are. I had never heard of First Footing, either, but I love it.

Growing up, my parents told me I was Scottish and German. I never knew what that meant exactly. Thanks for sharing a small piece of it.

Love the post, the pics, and your writing. Happy 2010! =D