With Christmas done and dusted, I hope that Santa resisted giving you something practical for the house – unless that’s what you wanted of course! Thankfully these days I benefit from a more reliable set of gift-givers than my ex-husband.

As much as I enjoy it, I am quite relieved that the stress of the preparations for December 25th are over and await the start of the next year with mixed feelings. I don’t look forward to the coming couple of months because the fun times are over and the weather is generally rubbish. To compensate, I organise visits to old friends and walks in North Yorkshire’s beautiful countryside to cheer myself up.

I do like to end the year with a bit of a shindig on New Year’s Eve though, followed by a big roast dinner the next day, a kind of end of season blowout before settling down to a healthier lifestyle for the coming 12 months (yeah, right!).

New Year parties are not everyone’s cup of tea. “At every party there are two kinds of people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are usually married to each other,” said Ann Landers (‘Ask Ann Landers’ was an advice column in the Chicago Sun-Tribune). And Bill Vaughan, another American columnist, wrote: “Nothing is more irritating than not being invited to a party you wouldn’t be caught dead at.”

There are many superstitions associated with New Year, and if the most notable one bears any truth, then I might be in trouble. It states that whatever activity you are engaged in when the clock strikes midnight will influence your life for the coming 12 months. Back in the day, few people would go to bed before 12, and even the old and sick would force themselves to stay awake in the hope that it would mean they would not be permanently asleep by the following New Year.

You were not to wear black at the crucial moment either because you would be inviting death into the house. People who were still in mourning would try to get around this by tying a white apron over their clothes in an attempt to shoo the chance of another death away. It made me think of Queen Victoria, who famously wore black for 40 years after the death of her beloved husband Albert. The Victorians were notoriously superstitious, so did the Queen don a white apron each year too, I wonder?

The dawn of a new year was also the chance for a new start, if one was needed, and it was customary in the week between Christmas and New Year to give the home a good old spruce up, signifying the dispensing of the old and tarnished, and welcoming a fresh, unblemished start. The fire, which would be cleared of old ashes and a new one laid, had to burn all night on the last day of the old year until the end of the first day of the new one. If it went out, bad luck would follow.

My dad wrote about a custom with which he was very familiar, that of ‘first footing’. Indeed, when he became the village bobby in Oswaldkirk in 1964, he was asked by a number of households to perform the task of first footer, which he describes in the third book of his Constable series, Constable Around the Village.

The term means “first into the house” and it should be a man, ideally a stranger, with dark hair, who is not cross-eyed, not flat-footed, and must not have eyebrows that meet in the middle. He must arrive as soon after midnight as possible and bring with him a piece of coal to symbolise heat and light, a coin or some salt to symbolise wealth, and a piece of bread to symbolise sustenance. In Oswaldkirk, a sprig of holly was also traditionally carried to represent everlasting life.

The villagers were delighted when this new bobby arrived, because he ticked all of those boxes and thus was asked to fulfil this important task by no less than eight different homes. Even though he was on duty, Dad ended his shift by falling into bed at 2am New Year’s Day rather the worse for wear after being too polite to turn down the warming tots he was offered at every household he visited.

Contact me via my webpage at countrymansdaughter.com, or email gazette@gazetteherald.co.uk.