Lincolnshire seems to have more than its fair share of superstitions, as perhaps befits a large, thinly populated rural county – many of them are associated with New Year.
If the first person to cross your doorstep on New Year’s Day is a dark haired man carrying a loaf of bread, a lump of coal and some salt, you will have a year of warmth, wealth and plenty of food. If he also brings a piece of evergreen you will enjoy a long life. But the legend is negated if the man is cross-eyed.
If a boy arrives at your front door on the stroke of midnight on this day, carrying some firewood, that will bring good luck. Lead him through the house and out the back door and give him a gift of money as he leaves.
Some Lincolnshire people still put money and a lump of coal outside on their windowsill on New Year’s Eve and bring it in first thing next morning; this they believe will bring a good income and warmth through the year. Some people refuse to pay any bills on New Year’s Day, fearing that paying bills will dominate their year.
There is a superstition that you should never look at the first new moon of the year through glass as it brings bad luck, but a number of people have pointed out that, although members of their family go outside to look at the moon, they do not remove their spectacles.
It is said that to see an ivy leaf early on New Year’s Day will bring good luck all year, so some people take a sprig with them to bed on New Year’s Eve. Some people believe that dead ashes in the fire grate have fortune telling powers. The ashes should be raked over last thing on New Year’s Eve and left smooth and level. If the next morning there is a footprint in the ashes pointing into the house you can expect a birth in the family, but if the footprint points out of the house, a death can be expected.
There are a number of superstitions relating to cormorants, the best known of which involves Herbert Ingram, father of pictorial journalism. In September 1860 a cormorant settled on a church steeple in Boston. There it remained more or less all day and all night until early the next morning when the church caretaker took his gun and shot it. Later that day news arrived that Herbert Ingram, MP for Boston, and his son had drowned aboard the Lady Elgin on Lake Michigan in the USA.
You will often see a horseshoe nailed to the front door of a house in Lincolnshire. Many believe it is to bring good luck but historically it is to ward off witches. The horseshoe must, however, not be bought; it should be found, begged or borrowed.
Many Lincolnshire superstitions involve the finding of a husband by a young woman. If she sits up on St Mark’s Eve (24th April) and sets a supper table for two, and leaves all the doors open, at midnight her future husband will walk in and enjoy the meal. If a single girl puts a piece of someone else’s wedding cake through a ring and sleeps with it under her pillow, she will dream of the man she will marry. But if she peels an apple without breaking the peel, then throws the peel, still all in one piece, over her left shoulder, it will form, where it falls, the first letter of the name of her future husband. Good luck!