Tag Archives: New Year

3 January: An old Scot remembers.

Weeping Willow, Westgate Gardens, Canterbury.

At New Year 1873, William Allingham, the Irish Poet, was in London and called on his Scottish friend Thomas Carlyle, as he told his diary.

London, January 1, 1873. — Carlyle’s at 3. He gives me a book. We walk out.

This morning he said, ‘ after midnight, as Mary and I were sitting together, we heard a chorus of male voices outside the window singing Auld Lang Syne. We peeped out, and saw five or six figures on the other side of the street. I was really touched. I put up the window and said ” Good-night ! ” one of them eagerly replied ” Good-night ! ” and then they all vanished silently away.’

Then with a laugh he added, ‘ Truly the songs of Judah in a Babylonish land ‘ ! and afterwards quoted Burns’s burlesque lines : — We hung our fiddles up to dreep*. He spoke of ‘Hogmanay ‘ in the streets of Edinburgh, hot punch and kissing.

*Nae mair by Babel's streams we'll weep,
To think upon our Zion;
And hang our fiddles up to dreep,
Like baby-clouts a-drying:
Come, screw the pegs wi' tuneful cheep,
And o'er the thairms by trying;
Oh rare! To see our elbucks wheep,
And a' like lambs' tails flyin'
                                        Fu' fast this day!

In Psalm 137 the poet sings of the people of Israel refusing to sing in exile, instead hanging their musical instruments on the willows beside the rivers of Babylon. This willow was just coming into leaf in Spring. Carlyle was not a conventional Christian believer, more of a life-long enquirer, but he enjoyed the tribute of being serenaded with song from the first-footers – who vanished silently away rather than expect their dram of whisky. Hogmanay seems to have been carnival time in Edinburgh 200 years ago, when Carlyle was a young man there.

Burns was not the man to indulge for long in melancholic reflection; rather he looked forward to the fiddlers’ elbows whipping the strings and getting people to dance. Perhaps the exiles’ songs of Judah contributed greatly to the fellowship, friendship and community of the Chosen People.

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31 December: OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES I

Ringing chamber, Lincoln Cathedral. Ring out the old year, ring in the new!
OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES

New Year met me somewhat sad: 
   Old Year leaves me tired, 
Stripped of favourite things I had 
   Baulked of much desired: 
Yet farther on my road to-day 
   God willing, farther on my way. 

New Year coming on apace 
   What have you to give me? 
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace, 
   Face me with an honest face; 
You shall not deceive me: 
   Be it good or ill, be it what you will, 
It needs shall help me on my road, 
   My rugged way to heaven, please God.


 From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti)

Let’s end the old year and start the new with poetry. This is the first of three Old and New Year Ditties from Christina Rossetti, These last few Old Years have left many of us tired, frustrated, baulked from achieving our wishes, however legitimate or worthy they might have seemed.

‘Somewhat sad’ Rossetti may have been, wondering what the New Year will bring. She knew ill-health herself well before modern medicine and surgery which could have helped and healed her. She shared and tried to alleviate the sufferings of sex workers, very badly off in Victorian times, as well as other poor women. Here it almost sounds as though she is armouring herself for the challenges she will face on the rugged road through the coming year.

If we face ourselves with an honest face we’ll acknowledge our mixed feelings. No more covid, please God, for a start! No more war, starvation or suffering; but please God, may the family wedding be the start of a long and happy marriage …

Let us be hopeful rather than optimistic. We can expect the road to be rugged, but we may hit the potholes when we least expect to.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

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26 January – the year is under way again!

My friend Thomas sent an email to say, ‘We are not failures’ if our New Year Resolutions have not borne the fruit we’d hoped for. So be good to yourself: ‘if only for a moment, let yourself be at home with yourself’.’

One place I am at home with myself is the kitchen. The school Thomas and I attended expected us to master basic cooking, but many of the lads can do better than basic. My January therapeutic special activity is making marmalade. Not much foraging to this one but come Autumn we can make October marmalade using citrus peel, sugar and windfall or crab apples to supply the pectin that helps the preserve to set.

In January the set depends on long boiling and added pectin, using most of the stored jars from under the stairs. That’s our label up above. Friends and relations look out!

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31 December: John Anderson my jo, John.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s poet of Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve. We’ve all heard, and probably sung, his ‘Auld Lang Syne’ over the years, but recently I came across this song which is full of hope, comfort and joy. Enjoy the song and Happy New Year! May it be full of happiness, friendship and peace and monie a canty day.

Will & Co.

John Anderson my jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,                                       my dear
    When we were first acquent,                                  acquainted
Your locks were like the raven,
      Your bonny brow was brent;                                 smooth
But now your brow is beld, John,                               bald
      Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,                               head
      John Anderson, my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
      We clamb the hill thegither,                                  together
And monie a canty day, John,                                     cheerful                               
      We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,                               must
      And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
      John Anderson, my jo!

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31 December: May I no longer linger in perplexity

In Holy Week 1776, Samuel Johnson sat down to review his new year’s resolutions. This is his record.

Since last New Year’s Eve I have risen every morning by eight, at least not after nine, which is more superiority over my habits than I have ever before been able to obtain. Scruples still distress me. My resolution, with the blessing of God, is to contend with them, and, if I can, to conquer them. ‘My resolutions are—
‘To conquer scruples.
‘To read the Bible this year.
‘To try to rise more early.
‘To study Divinity.
‘To live methodically.
‘To oppose idleness.
‘To frequent Divine worship.


 ‘Almighty and most merciful Father! before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace. ‘O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation. Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors. Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved. Grant that I may serve Thee in firm faith and diligent endeavour, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquillity and constancy. Take not, O God, Thy holy Spirit from me: but grant that I may so direct my life by Thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

Two phrases caught my eye: ‘at least not after nine’ – an admission that he had not been quite as faithful as he first thought; I’m sure there are areas where I can be less than honest with myself in this way. And the second: Take not thy holy Spirit from me.’ That implies a degree of conviction that the Holy Spirit was with him. You may agree, when you read Doctor Johnson’s thoughts on slavery next month, that the Spirit was with him.

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