Thursday, December 31, 2015

Get on the Good Foot

I grew up with Scottish grandparents - my mother was born in Aberdeen - who landed in Southern California in the mid 1950s. They hung a painting of the River Dee above the mantel, kept the pantry stocked with British foods, and took the family to the annual Scottish Festival in Costa Mesa, CA from the time we were wee bairns. My grandparents always missed "the Old Country" and returned often to visit friends and family. They ensured that tartan was as deeply ingrained in my being as the stars and stripes.

Ireland is very different from Scotland, yet when I landed here in January of 2015 I felt a tug from the Old Country. Adapting to local culture, I began to understand more of the traditions I grew up with. Much like Christmas in my native Los Angeles: snow? mittens? cold? Christmas traditions make sense when you're in Germany, but seem kitsch when you're standing under a palm tree in sandals near Venice Beach in December.

My grandfather talked about Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year's tradition, with a twinkle in his eye. The grandparents always celebrated New Year's at the Mayflower Club in North Hollywood, where Scottish and English expats gathered. But I heard how in the Old Country they would visit friends after midnight, bringing small gifts and gathering for a drink and maybe some music. It ignited my imagination and clearly he cherished the memory and all those traditions meant to him as he told me.

In Hogmanay lore, the first person over the threshold is the harbinger of the coming months. A tall dark-haired man was a good omen, especially if he came bearing the symbols of prosperity, food, good flavor, warmth, and cheer.

This year I assembled my own First Foot Kit. Tradition says that a woman first over the threshold can be bad luck, but I say I'll chance it. (It's 2016, dearie, not 1916.) My kit includes:

1. Silver coins for prosperity, Danish and Icelandic kroner collected in the year's travels.
2. Bread, which goes one further to cover food and flavor if it's a croissant.
3. Salt for flavor, particularly tasty smoked sea salt flakes.
4. A candle, rather than coal, for warmth. (We'll light the fire later).
5. Whisky, for good cheer, always in my husband's stock.

And for my luck-be-damned first footing, I added a blank sheet of paper, for all the creativity, possibility and art that the new year will hold.

Happy new year, Friends. May you be nourished, warm and cheerful as you welcome 2016.

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