Scotland's first-footing Tradition

Tradition asks for a very particular type of first-footer: dark haired men are preferred.

By Rebecca Brown

Scotland claims many traditions around Hogmanay, from crossing hands and singing Auld Lang Syne, to partying until the bells and beyond. One of the most interesting, however, is the notion of first-footing. 

First-footing refers to the first person to cross the threshold after midnight on New Years Day. The first-footer must not have already crossed the threshold before midnight, meaning they must either be a brand new visitor to the house, or have left the building before the strike of midnight and come back in after. 

Gifts are given as a token of luck for the coming year. These days this usually takes the form of shortbread or whisky, but traditionally coal was given to represent a warm hearth for not only the remaining (and often harsher) part of winter but a happy home year-round. 

Tradition also asks for a very particular type of first-footer: dark haired men were preferred while women, and men with fair hair were thought to be unlucky. The unluckiness of fair hair is thought to stem from the viking invasions, while a fearfulness of women may stem back to the notion of the Cailleach, a crone goddess of winter and death who took the form of an old woman who, should she come knocking, would undoubtedly mean peril for those inside. 

So next time you think about showing up at a New Years Eve party empty handed, consider taking a lump of coal.

Leave a Reply