WHO WILL CROSS your path first on New Year’s Day? If it is a redhead, you may need to fasten your seat belt for a bumpy 2012, since at least one beginning-of-the-year tradition holds that the person first crossing your threshold in the new year decides the luck you’ll have for the next 365 days.
The name January is derived from the two-faced God Janus, a principle diety in Roman mythology. Originally the god of light and day, he gradually became the god of beginnings, including gateways and doors, which in part explains why many of us still huddle in our doorways on New Year’s Eve, letting out the old year and letting in the new.
Taken from the ancient English and Scottish tradition of “Hogmanay,” which in turn comes from the name of a cake given to children on New Year’s Eve, the tradition also has pagan origins in its belief that the spirits of those years are flowing out of–as well as into–the house. Some followers of this rite observe what is called “first footing,” believing that the first person to cross the threshold in a New Year will affect the fortunes of the dwellers.
The connection to redheads is found in the superstitions specifically about the color of the hair of those whose feet first cross your threshold. Regardless of their sex, the belief is that dark-haired people bring the best luck; blondes means no luck at all; and widowers of any hair color bring bad luck. But the worst luck? It comes in with a redhead. In fact, there was a time when people actually hired what became known as “first footers,” based on what luck they would bring to the household, and redheads never got the job.
How do I know this? I wrote a book on the hair color called The Roots of Desire. Part memoir, part history, part wild romp all over the world, it might be the wildest of my books to date. And by the way, I don’t believe that bad luck thing for a moment. I’m frequently the first one in the household back through the doorway, though now that I think about it, my sister, Margaret, has never once invited me over to her house for New Year’s Eve. Hmmm.
Have a funny feeling about any of the days of the year? Send it along, and I’ll add it to my interactive calendar. Found on the homepage, have a look through the year, and get your memoir writing off the ground in 2012. Happy new year.