New Year’s is a holiday full of traditions. Everyone seems to have one – a traditional meal, resolutions, celebrations.
Vance Randolph gives us several traditional Ozark ones in “Ozark Magic and Folklore.”
For example, he notes that several Ozarks families he knew would always open their window on New Year’s Eve before midnight, no matter what the weather.
When asked the origin, Randolph was told that it let the bad luck out and the good luck in, noting that the younger folks “grinned tolerantly” while the old folks looked very solemn. “It was plainly no laughing matter to them.”
Another custom Randolph documents is that of the “first-footer” – no doubt with its origins from a similar custom in Scotland – where the first person to cross your threshold after midnight on January 1st (known as Hogmanay to the Scots), will determine the household’s fortune for the coming year.
For the Ozarker, an unexpected visitor meant that many others would come during the new year.
Randolph reported that for the hillman, this was received with mixed emotions, as uninvited callers usually were not well-received.
If the “first-footer” was a man, then the family may expect good luck, while women were believed to bring the opposite.
Note that this does not match the Scottish belief, which said that dark-headed individuals brought good luck, while a tall red-headed stranger was an ill omen, being a nod to the invading Viking.
Randolph does not mention of the Ozarker’s first footer brought gifts as the Scots did – a coin, bread, salt, a lump of coal, and a “wee dram” of whisky – to further cement the good luck in the coming year for the household, although he does note that some Ozarkers believed whatever a person did on New Year’s Day would be an “indication of what he will be doing all the rest of the year.”
Recently my New Year’s tradition, along with many others, has been a first-day hike. The last several years have found me at Ozark National Scenic Riverways for the annual Winter Paddling Clinic held at Echo Bluff State Park, and with the Ozark Trail so close by, a first hike became part of my New Year’s custom.
Last year found me on the section of the trail from Klepzig Mill to Rocky Falls, which quickly became a favorite of mine as I followed its meandering path next to Rocky Creek.
The mill’s namesake, Henry Klepzig, was an immigrant from Prussia who erected the “sawmill house” in the shut-in canyon along Rocky Creek in the early 20th century.
The mill was powered by a turbine, and today the site is maintained in a state of “arrested decay.”
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Klepzig ground corn for his neighbors free of charge “on starvation” and was known for introducing barbed and woven wire fences for his “refined” milk cows, according to the National Park Service.