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Project Britain
Folklore Calendar
stories, sayings, customs
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A month by month of forgotten legends and pastimes from Britain's folk history

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New Year's Eve

Sayings, Customs and Traditions


3131st December is the last day of the year. It is New Year's Eve.

big benMany people see the old year out with a party, welcoming in the New Year with toasts of champagne, and exchanging good wishes for a 'Happy New Year'.

It is traditional to stay up and see the old year out. Its exit is usually noisy. All over Britain there are parties, fireworks, singing and dancing, to ring out the old year and ring in the new.

In Scotland, New Year's Eve is celebrated with much drinking and revelry as Hogmany, which traditionally lasts for a day or more into the New Year.

As the clock - Big Ben - strikes midnight, people all over the UK cross their arms across their chests and link hands with everyone closeby them. They sing a song called 'Auld Lang Syne' reminding them of old and new friends.

All year round Traditional Song

What is 'Auld Lang Syne'?

'Auld Lang Syne' is an old Scottish song that was first written down in the 1700s. Robert Burns is the person whose transcription got the most attention, so the song is associated with him.

What does 'Auld Lang Syne' mean?

"Auld Lang Syne" is from old Scottish dialect and can be translated as "times gone by". The poem/song is about love and friendship in times gone by. The lyrics 'We'll take a Cup of Kindness yet' relate to a drink shared by men and women to symbolise friendship.

Auld Lang Syne

Version Sung

Should old acquaintances be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne?


For auld lang  syne, my dear
For auld Lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Verse Two

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang sine

Chorus  repeat  

For auld lang  syne, my dear
For auld Lang syne, 
We'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!


Should old acquaintances be forgotten
and never remembered
Should old acquaintance be forgotten
For times gone by


For times gone by, my dear
For times gone by
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For times gone by

And there is a hand my trust friend
And give me a hand of yours
And we will take of a goodwill drink
For times gone by

For times gone by, my dear
For times gone by
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For times gone by

All year round Customs

An old custom was to open the door of the house at the last stroke of midnight. on New Year’s Eve to allow the old year out and the new year in.

First Footing

In the old days, the New Year started with a custom called 'first footing', which was suppose to bring good luck to people for the coming year. As soon as midnight had passed and January 1st had started, people used to wait behind their doors for a dark haired person to arrive. The visitor carried a piece of coal, some bread, some money and some greenery. These were all for good luck - the coal to make sure that the house would always be warm, the bread to make sure everyone in the house would have enough food to eat, money so that they would have enough money, and the greenery to make sure that they had a long life.

The visitor would then take a pan of dust or ashes out of the house with him, thus signifying the departure of the old year.

New Year Resolutions

The end of the year brings reflection on the past and hope for the future. Many people make New Year's resolutions.

On December 31, 1661, Samuel Pepys penned about his New Year's Resolution “I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine, which I am resolved to keep according to the letter of the oath which I keep by me.

image CalennigCalennig

Calennig is the Welsh tradition of New Year gift giving. A Calennig is an apple with three twig legs stuck with dried fruit, cloves and a spray of evergreens stuck into the top. It is a traditional Welsh decoration to give friends and families on New Years day to with them luck during the new year. Placing a calennig on the window sill or shelf will bring luck to the house.

Calennig is a Welsh word meaning "New Year celebration/gift," though literally translates to "the first day of the month," deriving from the Latin word kalends. The English word "Calendar" also has its root in this word.

Fire Festivals

The Allendale Tar Barrel Festival Northumberland

Whisky barrels filled with burning tar are balanced on the heads of barrel carriers called “Guisers” and paraded around the town.

image: Tar barrels Allendale

The Stonehaven Fireball Festival nr. Aberdeen

A parade of sixty kilt clad, marchers accompanied by pipes and drums, whirling 16 pound balls of fire on wire ropes around their heads.

The Comrie Flambeaux Procession Scotland

Eight huge torches parade through the town, and then thrown from a bridge into the River Earn, ridding the town of the years evil spirits.

All year round Superstition

In Yorkshire, people say 'Black rabbits, black rabbits, black rabbits' in the closing seconds of the old year. Then they say, 'White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits,' as their first utterance of the New Year. This is suppose to bring good luck.

Many people try to make 'White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits,' their first words on the first day of any new month.

On the first day of each month when children get to school they may say to someone:

'Pinch punch the first day of the month - no returns!'

In retaliation the other one will immediately exclaim:

'A punch and a kick for being so quick - no returns!.'

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