Strawmen and superstition

There are those who credit me with a modicum of intelligence and more than a smattering of sense. They are usually taken aback when I throw the odd superstition into the conversation – and it seems that around the New Year, I have more and more to say for myself. I’m just back from Ireland, laden with pieces of blessed straw, knicked from the crib in the village church. If you put a piece of crib straw in your wallet, you’ll not want for money all year. It works. Honestly.Early this morning, the lovely MI dropped over with lentils and ham hocks so that I’d be all set for tomorrow – Hungarian tradition has it that eating these on the first day of the year will ensure health and prosperity. And judging by the millions of dead porkers I saw at the markets today, everyone is cashing in on this particular one.I’ve already had my St Martin’s goose, so roll on prosperity.

Christmas traditions are a breed of their own. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day in the UK) falls on December 26. Legend has it that St Stephen was fleeing from soldiers and hid in a bush. A wren in the furze flew off and gave him away and the poor bird has been hunted ever since. In some parts of the country, groups of wren boys go from house to house and collect money for charity (in the good old days, the money went to sponsoring a dance for the village that same evening). Liam Clancy immortalised the traditional poem in 1955:

The wran, the wran
The king of all birds
St Stephen’s Day
Was caught in the furze

So up with the kettle
And down with the pan
And give me a penny
To bury the wran.

About 10 years ago, in a forest outside my village at home, they started a wren festival where the wren boys and the strawmen battle it out to get the wren. The battle on the green is warmed up by traditional Irish music and dance and anyone who feels a bar in them or wants to dance a reel or jig is welcome to take to the forest floor. Mind you, tradition being what it is, it’s hard to figure out which is the ‘real’ thing. In other parts of Ireland, strawmen only come out for weddings; in more places, they only come out to welcome the newlyweds home from honeymoon. But in Kildare, they do battle with the wren boys.

Is tradition any less because it’s not pure? I wonder. This is my first New year in Hungary and I’m wondering what the tradition is here. Judging by the number of tourists in town today, Budapest is a place people flock to for the holidays. Judging from the cacophony of horns outside, the world and her mother got a bugle from Santa. And the popping of fireworks coupled with the howling of dogs is a something worth hearing.  Many years ago a Chinese friend of mine told me that I should wear red undies on NYE – and this is the first year I’ve remembered. And I’m wearing some new red clothes. I’ve resolved not to cry under any circumstances. I have all my bills paid and will not be paying any bills tomorrow or lending anything to anyone. I don’t plan on doing laundry or dishes but it might be a stretch not to wash my hair. I’ll be draining a bottle tonight and dancing in the open air. I have my fridge well stocked and if I’m at home by midnight, I’ll be sure to open all the doors. The jury is still out on whether I’ll be looking out the window tomorrow in the hope of seeing  a man walking by on the street. But, of course, I will be doing a token amount of work (just to cover the old career thing!) Whew! What a list. Sometimes being superstitious takes a lot of effort!

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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