Yorkshire Life: Reviving an old custom

When I was growing up in the North York Moors, no New Year celebration was complete without First Footing by the Lucky Bod. That is the local word for bird. I lived at Glaisdale, a village said in Arthur Mee's King's England books to be shut off from the world by the moors and so we all thought First Footing was something that happened everywhere.

First Footing was supposed to bring good fortune to the household. The Lucky Bod was absolutely the first visitor in the New Year; the doors were closed against everyone else until he had performed his ritual. But there were qualifications.

He must be male with dark hair; his eyebrows should not meet in the middle, he mustn't have flat feet, but he could be a member of the household in question.

Arriving at the earliest moment after midnight on New Year's Eve, he carried a sprig of evergreen such as holly, a piece of coal, a portion of bread, some cash and a pinch of salt. He placed these on the hearth. They symbolised the necessities of life and ensured the household would enjoy good fortune throughout the year.

In return, he was rewarded with a piece of ginger cake and a drink, probably ginger ale. Ordinary households at that time rarely stocked liquor – no canned beer or lager, no bottles of wine or spirits except perhaps sherry. A glass of sherry was daring indeed especially if the Lucky Bod had several houses to visit.

When I left my village at 16 to work in a town, I was surprised that no-one invited a First Footing Lucky Bod into their homes at New Year.

Instead everyone went to the pub, to drink, talk and sing before trying to creep into the family home without waking one's parents or treading on the cat. The custom of Lucky Bod was finished, or so I thought.

However, many years later I bought a village house on the edge of our moors. I was now married with a family and, as local tradition demanded, my wife and I, feeling very much new kids on the block, went to the village pub "to see in" the first New Year from our new home.

There I received an invitation! "Will you be our Lucky Bod?" asked a delightful lady."Come to the house soon after midnight. I'll leave the coal and other stuff on the step, then you can bring it in." As this was an interesting blast from the past, I agreed.

Then other householders had similar ideas and soon I had several First Footing invitations to honour. "I may be a little while," I advised my wife as she went home and I began my duties. By this stage of my life, the notion of having ginger wine for a celebration had developed into better things.

As I toured the houses to place the necessary materials on the hearths, I sampled much hospitality before realising I really should go home.

Strangely reminiscent of my youthful days, I crept into our house and put the necessary things on the hearth in the darkness so I did not wake anyone. I even avoided standing on the cat.

As I sneaked into bed, my wife grunted something inaudible and I apologised for being late. "But I was your Lucky Bod," I whispered in her ear.

YP MAG 1/1/11