Onions and ball gowns and shot guns: New Year's on the Island
Traditions, old and new
There are many ways to mark New Year's Eve on P.E.I., and not all of them involve staying up until the small hours.
Of course, most of them seem to.
It may seem obvious that people simply want to be awake to witness the old year turning into the new, but Dutch Thompson describes an old superstition with a slightly darker edge to it. That tradition states whatever you're doing at midnight is what you'll be doing the rest of the year.
And according to that superstition, bed equals dead.
Thompson describes a number of other superstitions that relate to New Year's as a harbinger of the year to come:
- It's good luck to be the one to finish a bottle on New Year's Eve.
- If you don't wear something new for the new year, you'll have to wait until the following year for any new clothes.
- It's a dangerous precedent to lend money or cry on New Year's Day.
- It's bad luck to throw out ashes, sweep out dust or give anyone a candle from your home on either New Year's or Christmas Day.
It's a wonder giving decorative candles at Christmas ever became a thing, given that last one.
Tuxedoes and ball gowns
These are all traditions so old that they have no clear origin, but there are newer traditions on the Island as well.
In the last years of the 20th century the Delta in downtown Charlottetown began hosting a formal New Year's party, and author Patti Larsen and her friends and family took it seriously.
"[We took] great delight in dressing up — tuxedos and ball gowns and all — and attending the delightful dinner and dance," said Larsen.
"We anticipated the event with great excitement each year, often planning ahead far more for it than Christmas."
Larsen's final New Year's party at the Delta was the turn of the millennium.
"We dressed in blue and silver, danced and imbibed and even took a turn celebrating with a few steps on a table top — my parents included," she said.
Larsen's father died in 2000. She and her friends were getting older, the crowd at the hotel was getting younger. Those parties at the Delta are now a memory to treasure.
Fireworks, old style
When David Weale was a young boy he encountered a new tradition.
It was his first night staying up until midnight, and when the clock struck at the house party he was attending, his host took his shotgun outside and fired it into the sky. All up and down that rural road Weale heard the echoes of other shotguns going off.
Twenty-two years later, while at a New Year's Eve party and at the other end of the Island, in Murray Harbour, Weale decided to try the tradition out for himself. Stepping out onto the back porch with a borrowed shotgun, he fired two blasts into the sky.
"I had kept my little pledge to myself," said Weale.
"I knew I was bringing in the New Year with a bang, but suspected there must be something more to it than that. Yet, at the same time I felt a strange satisfaction in doing something just because it was customary."
Weale warns that care is needed when engaging in this custom.
"Several days later, as I was leaving that same house, I looked up and discovered that in my excitement on New Year's Eve I had blasted a large number of BBs into the overhanging roof of the porch," he said.
"I had aimed for the sky, and almost missed."
Forecasting the weather
New Year's as a time for anticipating the future can go beyond the personal, according to Thompson.
He describes a weather forecasting tradition that requires nothing more than 12 pieces of onion and some salt on New Year's Day. Assign each piece of onion a month and sprinkle some salt on them. Check them again on Epiphany - Jan. 6. Where the salt is wet so too will be the month. Dry salt means a dry month.
Thompson also has a personal experience with predictors for the new year.
The Scottish tradition of first footing says it is good luck for the first person to cross your doorstep on New Year's Day to be a dark-haired man or boy. In his younger days, Thompson had an elderly neighbour who insisted he, as a dark-haired boy, make an early visit to her New Year's Day.
One New Year's morning she made an urgent phone call. He must come right away. A neighbour had come to fix her water pump, but his hair wasn't dark, and she wasn't going to let him in until Thompson stepped across the threshold first.
So if you want a happy new year, watch what you're doing and midnight, and who you're with, and in what direction you are pointing your shotgun.