The Scottish immigrants who settled in the wilderness of Canada did not celebrate Christmas as many of their descendents do now. Christmas celebrations had been prohibited in Scotland for a long time. The Scots celebrated the coming of the new year with many traditions from their homeland. Children in Scotland would go door to door collecting oatcakes as a treat. The distance and isolation of the new land called for a few changes to this tradition. Settlers would prepare for the transition to the new year by cleaning their cabins from top to bottom. They would bake using ingredients they had been saving for this special occasion. Black Bun was a favourite festive cake with raisins and spices encased in pastry made by the familes fortunate enough to have access to these special ingredients. The focus of the celebration was gathering with family and neighbours to share spiced ale and Black Bun. Children might receive a carved or sewn gift. Games would be played for entertainment. Just before midnight, the back door would be opened and ashes from the hearth would be swept outside to rid the house of the old year. The front door would be opened to welcome the new year into the house. This was a great challenge for the many settlers who had only one door in their primitive cabins.
A 'first footer' was believed to be essential to bring good luck to the house and family for the year ahead. If a dark haired man was the first to cross the threshold of the home just after the stroke of midnight it was a sign of good fortune to come. Families would wait in anticipation for a knock at the door. The first footer, often a family member or neighbour, would come into the home bearing a gift. The gifts would represent good wishes. Common items were: coal for warmth throughout the year, a silver coin for prosperity, salt for good health, an evergreen bough to signal a long life, shortbread or Black Bun for plentiful food or whiskey for good cheer. The first footer would be welcomed into the home and treated to good cheer.
coal, salt, shortbread, silver coins, whiskey, evergreen bough
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This journal is written, researched, and maintained by the volunteers of the Middleville Museum.