Celebrating Spirituality 365 Days A Year
December 30 and 31
Mumming, New Year’s Eve, Hogmany
The end of December ushers in the New Year, a time of anticipation and celebration. For our pre-Christian ancestors, most of the New Year’s festivities were designed to ward off the barrenness of Winter and insure the fertility of Spring. This was accomplished with the actual or symbolic killing of the king of the old year and the welcoming of a new king—a metaphor still dramatized in the popular British mumming play.
It was during the 19th century, when the hustle of the Christmas Day celebrations were over and the new year was fast approaching, that the mummers took to the streets, pubs, and private homes to act our their plays. Masked and costumed, they portrayed three different themes: the Hero-Combat of St. George, the “Sword Dance,” and the Plough or Wooing play. Of the three, the Hero-Combat was the most favored.
The central part of the play begins with the Hero fighting an opposing champion or, occasionally a whole succession of enemies—the Black Prince, the Turkish Knight, or the Bold Slasher. After a spirited battle, in most but not all cases, the villain is slain. Suddenly a doctor appears, who boast lengthily (with a great deal of buffoonery) of his skill and travels, after which the dead man suddenly regenerates. Once the mummers have been paid, they journey to their next performance.
It might not be as well know as Christmas or New Year’s Eve, but Hogmanay is still celebrated in parts of England and Scotland. Although the word Hogmanay has never been satisfactorily established, it very well may come from the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath (Holy Month) or from the giant Gogmagog or Hogmagog, guardians of the cities of London and Plymouth. For the most part, Hogmanay is met with massive enthusiasm. Parties are held, people ring bells, fireworks are set off, and everyone makes a conscious effort to make a clean break with the past by making New Year’s resolutions.
Scotland has always made more of Hogmanay than England and still has a variety of customs associated with the holiday. Some of these include divination, of which Bibliomancy is the most popular. The Family Bible is prayed over, and then the person Seeking his or her future will open the Bible at random. Without looking, a verse is marked with the index finger and then read. Whatever the verse discusses will be the person’s fortune for the year. Another popular custom is to open the back door of the home and then close it just before midnight to let out all of the bad luck. At the stroke of midnight, the front door is then opened to let in the good luck. Finally, Hogmanay is a favored time for predicting the weather by observing the direction of the wind with this old Scots rhyme:“If New Year’s Eve night-wind blow south, That betokens warmths and growth. If west, much milk, and fish in the sea, If north, much cold and storms will be. If east, the trees will bear much fruit, If north-east, flee it, man and brute.”