By Kit Ó Céirín
The arrival of the New Year for us is always seen as a sign of hope and of good intentions to wipe the slate clean and start again. The origins of the first New Year resolutions, it is said, came from the Babylonians in Mesopotamia about four thousand years ago.
A promise was made at the start of every year that they would give back any borrowed objects and pay their debts. New Year resolutions were also practised in ancient Rome when Julius Caesar established January 1st as the beginning of the New Year, around 46 BC.
In Ireland, the arrival of the New Year was always a time of excitement and hope. At the stroke of midnight on December 31st, those seeking luck were told to enter the house through the front door and leave by the back door. It is unclear as to why, but this orderly appraisal was thought to bring the family good luck. Doors were left unlocked.
Another superstition that stood the test of time was the banging on the doors and walls of the home with Christmas bread. Irish rhymes were sung while the loaf was knocked against the hall door, calling on famine to pass by and ‘the pounding away of the hunger’. In those poverty-stricken times, there is no doubt that bread was never pounded so hard.
Nothing was ever thrown out on New Year’s Day, this being done to signify a plentiful supply for the coming year – not even ashes or the water in which the dishes were washed. There was no shopping either on January 1st, the belief being that if they did so, they would not try and save for the rest of the year.
An extra sheaf of corn was given to the horses and cows to encourage them to work harder and give more milk. The house was given a thorough cleaning, as if not, it would be dirty for the rest of the year. Everyone made sure to be on time for Mass, because if they were late, that would be the pattern for the rest of the year.
After midnight, the man of the house would recite the following verse:
‘May your nets always be full,
Your pockets never empty,
Your horse not cast a shoe,
Nor the devil look at you
In the coming year.’