Sweeping Out the Old Year

Calendar Customs, Uncategorized

Celebrating the new year and marking the end of the old year is nothing new, and though there are many traditions such as singing Auld Lang Syne (badly) at midnight that you’ll be familiar with, there are others that you may not have heard of.


Traditions and customs take place before and after midnight on NYE

For centuries, the tradition of ‘first footing’ has taken place across the UK.  Essentially this revolves around making sure that the first person to enter your house after midnight brings good luck for the coming year; so don’t go letting any undesirables like Donald Trump in before your lovely nan.  In some places, there are strict rules about the ‘first footer’.  They may be required to have dark hair, or dark skin, or to be married.  Some ‘first footers’ had to carry out tasks such as poking the fire, or even had to bring gifts like a loaf of bread.  It can all get very complicated!  I’d say you’re in for a good year if Johnny Depp turns up on your doorstep at midnight carrying a cut-loaf from the Co-Op… 

I like the tradition of sweeping out the old year to welcome in the new year.  People around Britain have done this for centuries, with people even buying a new broom to literally sweep out the dust and dirt of the dying year.  It was also seen as important to sweep out the fire and thoroughly clean the whole house.  Juniper would be burnt around the house, before the doors and windows were flung open to allow in the freshness of the new year air.

edinburgh hogmanay

Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh

And what of the Hogmanay celebrations that take place in Scotland each year?  It may sound like something out of Harry Potter, but Hogmanay can be linked to Pagan traditions around fire and light during the dark winter months.  It was a kind of mega winter festival where people lit bonfires, sang, danced and exchanged presents, to stop them feeling so miserable and cold in the days before central heating.  Nowadays, Hogmanay has become a huge party in Scotland’s cities.  Fireworks and bagpipes welcome in the new year in style!  And across Britain, people hug and kiss family, friends and strangers (you need to watch that!) at midnight.


You’ll notice that at this time of year, lots of grown ups – and some children – make resolutions for the new year.  Often these involve eating healthily, spending more time with family or going to the gym (most of which go out of the window by 8th January!). What will your resolutions be for 2016?


With a Little Bit of Luck it’s Friday 13th


Happy Friday 13th, y’all! Unlucky for some? The superstition around Friday 13th dates back hundreds of years. Friday was traditionally the day you were executed if you’d been up to no good. And 13? Many think the negativity around the number stems from the Last Supper when 13 people sat round the table. There are also beliefs in Hinduism that it’s unlucky for 13 people to gather together.

Friday 13th - beware?

Friday 13th – beware?

There’s a particular story that happened on Friday 13th October 1307 that may have started the tradition. Basically, the Pope and the King of France sentenced a load of good guys called the Knights Templar to death and executed their leader in a rather horrible way just to make a point. An unlucky day for them indeed…

There are always news stories about increases in accidents and people being more stressed than usual on Friday 13th, but I’m not convinced people really worry about it that much. Still, there is a real-life phobia of Friday 13th called… ready… paraskevidekatriaphobia. Try saying that after a stressful day!

This Strange and Wonderful Land


I am lucky enough to live in a country rich with history, culture and good old British eccentricity.  I have grown up with dozens of customs, traditions and beliefs, passed down through my family and the generations before.  Now that I have my own children, I readily – often subconsciously – pass these things down to them, so that they too now eagerly whisk eggs and flour on Shrove Tuesday, carve pumpkins at Halloween and predict the weather for the next morning based on the colour of the evening sky.  It’s bonkers really.

Kate, getting into the spirit of Halloween

Kate, getting into the spirit of Halloween

Many customs and beliefs are woven into the tapestry of Englishness – superstitions, proverbs, rituals, that drop into our language and everyday lives without a second thought.  Stories and legends that have been repeated and transformed over hundreds of years to the point where people really do believe there was a King Arthur and a Robin Hood.  Beliefs from the past are carved into buildings and hidden in place names, there for us modern folk to discover and query.  And it is these things that utterly fascinate me.

I have always loved folktales and stories about fairies, boggarts and unearthly beings.  Lost villages, haunted highways and standing stones.  Ghost stories are my particular favourite; both real life accounts such as the reporting of the ghost of Borley Rectory, and the fiction of the masters of the genre such as M.R. James.  Anything gothic, creepy, kooky and spooky – throw it my way!

I studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield, and found myself taking modules at NATCECT (The National Centre for English Cultural Tradition) where I studied everything from traditional ballads to urban legends to conspiracy theories.  This really drove my interest in Folklore as something that links directly to history, literature and culture; something that affects and influences our everyday lives. I would have loved to have gone on to study it further at NATCECT, but love and the lure of a job in publishing, led me to move to London after graduating.  My interest in folklore wasn’t diminished however, and many happy weekends in London were spent exploring the oddities and curiosities nestled particularly in the City and its buildings.

Nine years ago I moved to the small Georgian market town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, half an hour from the city of Nottingham, a short drive from the towns of Newark-on-Trent and Mansfield.  Southwell is a idyll of beautiful houses, boutique shops and quaint pubs, all basking in the glory of the Gothic-style Southwell Minster.  We are surrounded by small villages that wind their way prettily around the River Trent and interlink rolling countryside with the remnants of mining villages and towns of industry.  We are a stone’s throw from the mystical, magical Peak District; an area I discovered and adored during my student days.  We can easily commute to the North and the South in a couple of hours.  We really are in the middle of England; the glorious East Midlands!

Wherever you find yourself on mainland Britain, you will be surrounded by a wealth of cities, towns and villages that all hold their own folklore, their own stories and customs that have survived (sometimes thrived) through time.

I plan to revisit the stories, legends and tales that ignited my interest in folklore, and introduce these to a young audience, namely my own children, Matilda and Oscar.  With the kids in tow, over the next 12 months, I also plan to explore some of the places I loved in my childhood and some I’ve yet to discover, that will bring British history and folklore to life.

Matilda and Oscar, on a midsummer's eve in Southwell

Matilda and Oscar, on a midsummer’s eve in Southwell

It’s the start of an awfully big adventure…