. . . . . But, first, will come New Year’s Eve, with its singular inconvenience (in some districts) of nothing whatever being carried out of the house for twenty-four hours, lest, in throwing away anything, you should be throwing away some luck for the next year. Not a potato paring, nor a drop of soap-suds or cabbagewater, not a cinder, nor a pinch of dust, must be removed till New Year’s morning.
In these places, there is one person who must be stirring early—the darkest man in the neighbourhood. It is a serious thing there to have a swarthy complexion and black hair; for the owner cannot refuse to his acquaintance the good luck of his being the first to enter their houses on New Year’s day. If he is poor, or his time is precious, he is regularly paid for his visit.
He comes at daybreak, with something in his hand, if it is only an orange or an egg, or a bit of ribbon, or a twopenny picture. He can’t stay a minute,—he has so many to visit; but he leaves peace of mind behind him. His friends begin the year with the advantage of having seen a dark man enter their house the first in the New Year.
Such, in its general features, is Christmas, throughout the rural districts of Old England. Here, the revellers may be living in the midst of pastoral levels, all sheeted with snow; there, in deep lanes, or round a village green, with ploughed slopes rising on either hand : “here, on the spurs of mountains, with glittering icicles hanging from the grey precipices above them, and the accustomed waterfall bound in silence by the frost beside their doors ; and there again, they may be within hearing of the wintry surge, booming along the rocky shore; but the revelry is of much the same character everywhere.
There may be one old superstition in one place, and another in another ; but that which is no superstition is everywhere ;—the hospitality, the mirth, the social glow which spreads from heart to heart, which thaws the pride and the purse-strings, and brightens the eyes and affections.
Source: Household words Christmas stories, 1851-1858