Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter

Saturday, December 31, 2005

"It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year`s Eve, crying Hagmane."
Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.

The Scots celebrate the New Year’s Eve with great passion and have a rich heritage associated with this event. The roots of this are in the Protestant Reformation when The Presbyterian Church of Scotland portrayed Christmas as a catholic feast which had to be prohibited. Christmas was all but banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to as late as the 1950s. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and to exchange presents which came to be called hogmanays.

Ah... so that explains it, my preference for New Year's over Christmas. And here I thought I was simply exchanging the two holidays in preference to my daughter's birthday, which happens to fall on January 1. And this working Christmas part certainly rings true... I always said even when I was working at the hospital, "I don't mind working Thanksgiving or Christmas... Just give me New Year's Day."

And now for something completely different...


When I was a 'peedie bairn'... All right 'peedie ball of fur'. Anyway, as I was saying, when I was little, Hogmanay was the best time of year. When the folk of Mill Cottage put on their coats, shoved a bottle in a pocket, turned out the light and closed the door, Mother would give us the sign and we'd scamper out between the millers feet. That was before they invented a special door for us. Something they call a 'cat flap'. We recognized the signs and knew it must be midnight and time for us to visit our friends as well. 'First-pawing' Mother called it.

Our first stop was the Mill across the road just in case someone came to visit us there. Then it was on to the Boardhouse farm. We kittens especially liked to visit the farms as there were always lots of kittens for us to play with while the older cats sat around lapping from the bowl of milk that the farmer's wife set out for good luck - our good luck I'm sure. They talked about how the year and been: sunny days for naps, how many mice they caught, how big the rats were, friends that 'passed on' - adult things. We'd play with each other and then surprise Mother by jumping on her, though she didn't always approve of that. Some times the older cats would tell stories from many generations ago, like when that nasty man lived in the big house they call a palace in the village. But he isn't there anymore and the big house is all in ruins. That's what happens to you when you aren't good mother used to tell us. There were even stories about men who came in the long boats from out where the sky meets the sea and lived on the island out in the bay. But that was long, long ago. We loved to listen to the stories though we really didn't believe them. Now when I tell my own kittens those stories, I think I do believe.

Well after a nice long visit we'd stroll along the burn toward the village stopping at Walkerhouse along the way. There was a nice tabby who lived there. She was sort of shy, getting along in years and always stayed out of sight. She caught lots of mice and used to line them up on the step outside the door, hoping the folk inside would think she was one of those 'good trows' her own mother had told her old folk used to believe in. Visiting with her deep inside the barn was always fun. First we had to find the opening to the tunnel under the hay to get to the back in the corner where she lived. But she always had a little 'nip' to liven up our visit. We kittens would curl up next to her and listen to her wonderful tales of what it was like long ago. Sometimes her purring would put us to sleep and we'd dream of adventures of slaying sea dragons, catching giant rats and of seals dancing on the shore.

After tabby's visit we'd continue down the burn to the village. We never really got farther than the village that first night. Most of the cats in the village would gather by one of the houses where they were out of the wind and out of the way of the many feet that seemed to be travelling along the garden walls. By now we kittens were usually very sleepy and we could curl up in a corner in a pile while Mother visited with her many friends. Being winter and the sun so sleepy himself, visiting went on for a long time. Eventually the lazy sun would rise and everyone had to start for home again. It may be a special day, but the farmers family still had to take care of their animals. So we'd hurry back to the barn and byre to make sure any mice or rats that were around knew we were still in control.

But, times have changed. I heard the miller the other day talking to someone who had stopped in for beremeal. They were saying it's hardly worth making so much home brew any more as people don't come calling like they used to. There was to be a big party at the Hall again this year and we thought we'd go, but then all the lights went out. Don't know why people are bothered by that. We can see in the dark. Why can't they? Anyway, we didn't wait for the miller and his wife to leave. We just slipped out through the cat flap and headed across to the Mill. There were no cars on the road at all and we thought maybe we had the wrong night. No, the cat from Wattle Cottage told us, it was indeed Hogmanay. She was planning to go 'first pawing' with us and had on the strangest hat with bells and flashing red lights. "Too windy," she said as she padded back to Wattle. It wasn't long before I had to grab two of my kittens with my teeth as they were being rolled around by the wind. Cat o'Wattle was right. It was too windy for the peedie ones and back to Mill Cottage we went. So, if we didn't get to wish you a 'Happy New Year', we wish you that now.

Mrs. Levi Furblack, C.A.T.

*ariticle from a church newsletter in the U.K.

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