FLASHBACK FRIDAY: A PROSPECT NEW YEAR
From as early as I can remember until the mid-1970s, my New Years’ Days began with a visit from our neighbor, Mr. Jerry Mack Hewey. Most people just referred to Mr. Hewey as “Mr. Mack” or “Mr. Mike”. My brother and I have occasionally debated about whether his name was “Mack” or “Mike”, but according to “official” records, his middle name was Mack. So, I’m sticking with that. For decades, Mr. Mack was sure to be the first person to visit the homes in my neighborhood, on the first day of the New Year.
Zero-dark-thirty, on New Year’s Day mornings, would bring the familiar and eagerly anticipated “knock, knock, knock”, at our front door. On the other side of the door, we knew, stood Mr. Mack; standing there straight and tall, like a Georgia pine, with his battered brown fedora, cocked at a rakish angle. The broken-down brim of the hat casting a slanted shadow across his brown face; a face with friendly eyes, a warm smile, and a mole poised proudly atop the peak of his prominent cheekbone. His slender frame would generally, be adorned in its standard attire of “bib” overalls; a flannel shirt; a jean jacket, and on his large feet, “Brogan” boots.
He would greet us all with a booming, “MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPECT NEW YEAR!”, although Santa was assuredly, home safe and snug at the North Pole by then.
In those years, I often wondered about this patented, “sui generis” expression of Mr. Mack’s. The first unique feature of his greeting being the wish of a MERRY CHRISTMAS. “Merry Christmas?” I had puzzled, “Christmas is over”. Then there was the part about the “PROSPECT” New Year. “PROSPECT! What the heck is a PROSPECT New Year?” I had often queried, to no one in particular. I later learned that he meant PROSPEROUS.
Mr. Mack would enter our home and walk through every room in the house. Then he would bid us good day and be on his merry way; on to the next home, and the next, and the next. In the years since those golden days, I’ve learned that this tradition is called “FIRST FOOTING”. It originated in Scotland and was sometimes called “Hogmanay” (the meaning of this word is obscure).
There, “shortly after midnight on New Year’s eve, neighbors paid visits to each other imparting New Year’s wishes. It was considered especially lucky if a tall, dark, and handsome man is the first to enter your house after the New Year is rung in and it would be even better if he came bearing certain small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. Blonde and redhead first footers bring bad luck.” (From Snopes). I think we were on pretty solid “footing” here because Mr. Mack was definitely tall; unquestionably dark and peculiarly handsome.
Snopes goes on to say, “The first footer (sometimes called the “Lucky Bird”) should knock and be let in. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives — the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out. First footers must not be cross-eyed or have flat feet or eyebrows that meet in the middle.”
I think we were pretty safe here too! Mr. Mack was not cross-eyed, neither did he have a “uni-brow” but I’m not certain about the “flat-feet”.
On a slightly different note, I discovered that noisemaking and fireworks on, New Year’s eve, is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck.
I came across the following information about “Watch Night Services”; “The Watch Night Services in Black communities that we celebrate today can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as ‘Freedom’s Eve’. On that night, Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God.” For me, the history of “Watch Night” adds to its significance.
I close with this prayer by W.E.B. Dubois; “We pray tonight, O God, for confidence in ourselves, our powers and our purposes in this beginning of a New Year. Ward us from all lack of faith and hesitancy and inspire in us not only the determination to do a year’s work well, but the unfaltering belief that what we wish to do, we will do. Such faith, O Lord, is born of Works. Every deed accomplished finishes not only itself but is fallow ground for future deeds. Abundantly endow us, Our Father, with this deed-born-Faith”.
Amen.” ~W. E. B. Dubois
So, in the words of our very own “FIRST FOOTER”, Mr. Mack; “MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPECT NEW YEAR!”